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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Melothria scabra (Mexican sour cucumber)

Melothria scabra, family: Cucurbitaceae (same botanical family as cucumbers, squash and melons, but they are in a different genus and species), is a vine grown for its edible fruit. The oval-shaped, grape-sized fruits have a whitish flesh and taste like cucumbers with a tangy hint of citrus (from the skin). Other names include mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkin, cucamelon, Mexican miniature watermelon, Mexican sour cucumber, Mexican mini-gherkin, "cuka-nut", in France, “concombre à confire” (preserving cucumber) or “sandia de raton” (mouse melon in Spanish). This plant is native to Mexico and Central America. It is believed to have been a domesticated crop before Western contact began.

M.scabra is becoming quite popular with home gardeners in the U.S., as the fruits offer a unique flavor. The nearly disease and pest -resistant (p.28) climbing vines are vigorous growers (approx. 6-10 feet) producing small yellow flowers that are replaced by tons of light-green fruits with darker mottling resembling Lilliputian watermelons. The fruits are perfect for use in stir-fry, salad, chopped and added to salsa, or eaten fresh off the vine as a snack, and their crunch makes them great for pickling too.

The plant grows best in a fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5 with full sun. Squash are warm season plants that are somewhat adapted to cool conditions. They tolerate monthly mean temperatures from 18 to 27°C (64 to 80°F), but grow best when temperatures are between 75 and 85°F (24 and 29°C) during the day and between 60 and 70°F (16 and 21°C) at night[1]. It can only be reproduced by seeds.

Little information about the nutritional value or medicinal uses is available.

Note: Do not confuse this species with Melothria pendulosa, which can be found grwoing wild from the Southeastern United States to Argentina. It bears some of the popular names, such as mini-Gurke, Mexican Sour Cukes, Cuca-melon, Mexikanische Ziergurke, Mexican Sour Cucumbers (Guadeloupe Cucumber, Creeping ucumber). M. pendulosa is similar in size and appearance, and, has a definite “cucumber” taste with a slight tartness. The light green, crisp fruits of M. pendulosa are used by some people at this stage in salads and for pickling, but as they mature to a dark green they grow mushy, and when fully ripe (black) are considered to be an extremely effective purgative, or as some have referred to it - the mother of all laxatives!

External links

How to grow and eat cucamelons outdoors in the UK from Homegrown Revolution.
Article from Mother Earth News.
Article from Bihrmann's Caudiciforms.
Kew Plant List.
IPNI Listing.

References
CIR1265/PI046: Florida Crop/Pest Management Profile: Squash. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi046. University of Florida IFAS Extension, Publication #CIR1265.


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