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Coccinia sessilifolia (Sond.) Cogn.

A.DC., Monogr. phan. 3: 534 (1881).
Chromosome number
2n = 24
Cephalandra sessilifolia Sond. (1862).
Vernacular names
Wild cucumber, red gherkin (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Coccinia sessilifolia occurs in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
The fruit of Coccinia sessilifolia is eaten both raw as well as boiled. The ripe fruit tastes sweetish but insipid. The unripe boiled fruit is similar to asparagus in texture and flavour. The root weighs up to 25 kg and is eaten raw, boiled or roasted. It is tasteless and fibrous. Several authors claim that the roots are toxic but at least in the Kalahari desert there are non-toxic plants.
The fruits contain per 100 g: water 82.3 g, energy 256 kJ (61 kcal), protein 2.1 g, fat 0.2 g, carbohydrate 13 g, fibre 1.3 g, Ca 38 mg, Mg 2 mg, P 24 mg, Fe 0.2 mg, thiamin 0.19 mg, riboflavin 0.13 mg, ascorbic acid 25 mg.
The roots contain per 100 g: water 84 g, energy 197 kJ (47 kcal), protein 1.0 g, fat 0.1 g, carbohydrate 11 g, fibre 2.7 g, Ca 351 mg, Mg 60 mg, P 40 mg, Fe 2.2 mg, thiamin 0.02 mg, riboflavin 0.01 mg, niacin 0.28 mg, ascorbic acid 6.7 mg (Arnold, T.H., Wells, M.J. & Wehmeyer, A.S., 1985). Nutritionally the roots compare favourably with carrot, potato and turnip.
Dioecious, prostrate or scandent herb with deep perennial, fleshy root and annual stems; tendrils simple. Leaves alternate, simple, sessile, amplexicaul; blade ovate, 3–9 cm × 4–13 cm, deeply palmately 3–5-lobed, cordate at base, lobes elliptical to lanceolate. Flowers 5-merous, corolla pale yellow, sometimes tinged pink, lobes 2–3 cm × 1–1.5 cm, united to above middle; male flowers solitary or in small, pedunculate, axillary clusters or racemes with solitary flower at base, receptacle campanulate, 4–5.5 mm long, sepals up to 5 mm long, lanceolate, stamens 3; female flowers solitary, pedicel up to 1.5 cm long, receptacle narrowly campanulate, 3 mm long, sepals 3–4.5 mm long. Fruit an ellipsoid-fusiform or cylindrical berry 5.5–10.5 cm × 2–2.5 cm, bright red when ripe, many-seeded. Seeds asymmetrically ovoid, compressed, 6.5–7 mm × 3–3.5 mm × 1.4 mm.
Coccinia is placed in the tribe Benincaseae and comprises about 30 species. The genus is confined to tropical Africa, with the exception of Coccinia grandis (L.) Voigt (ivy gourd), which extends throughout the paleotropics.
The fruits of Coccinia sessilifolia ripen from December to February and perish fairly rapidly.
Coccinia sessilifolia occurs in dry wooded grassland.
Fruits and roots of Coccinia sessilifolia are exclusively collected from wild plants.
Genetic resources and breeding
Coccinia sessilifolia has a limited distribution but seems fairly common within its range and therefore is not likely to be threatened in the near future. Nothing is known about its genetic variation.
In southern Africa Coccinia sessilifolia is considered a good candidate for domestication. Tranfer of genes for breeding of the economically more important species Coccinia grandis is possible.
Major references
• Arnold, T.H., Wells, M.J. & Wehmeyer, A.S., 1985. Khoisan food plants: taxa with potential for future economic exploitation. In: Wickens, G.E., Goodin, J.R. & Field, D.V. (Editors). Plants for arid lands. Proceedings of the Kew International Conference on Economic Plants for Arid Lands. Allen & Unwin, London, United Kingdom. pp. 69–86.
• Jeffrey, C., 1978. Cucurbitaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 4. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 414–499.
• Story, R., 1958. Some plants used by the bushmen in obtaining food and water. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 30. 113 pp.
• van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
Other references
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate Editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Coccinia sessilifolia (Sond.) Cogn. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.