Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Harv. & Sond., Fl. Cap. 2: 497 (1862).
n = 12
Origin and geographic distribution
Cucumis hirsutus is distributed from Cameroon to Sudan and southwards to South Africa (Cape Province); also in Madagascar.
In Malawi the leaves are eaten in the same way as pumpkin leaves, i.e. sliced and cooked. The raw fruits are eaten as well, but are not much appreciated. In South Africa Cucumis hirsutus is considered a poisonous plant. A decoction of the root is used by the Zulu tribe to treat chronic cough.
There is no information on nutritional values, but the leaf composition is probably comparable to other dark green leaf vegetables and that of the fruits to cucumber.
Several cucurbitacins have been isolated from the roots of Cucumis hirsutus. Cucurbitacins, which are known from many Cucurbitaceae and various other plant species, exhibit cytotoxicity (including antitumour activity), anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities.
Dioecious, perennial, prostrate or scandent herb, with simple tendrils; roots fibrous, woody; stems up to 2.5 m long, thickened and woody at base. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules absent; petiole 0.5–5.5 cm long; blade broadly ovate, ovate-triangular or narrowly ovate, 2–15 cm × 1–10 cm, slightly cordate at base, unlobed or variously palmately 3–5-lobed, lobes ovate-triangular to linear. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5-merous; receptacle 3–9 mm long; sepals 1–9 mm long; petals white, cream or yellow; male flowers 1–12 together in fascicles, pedicel 0.5–7.5 cm long, petals up to 2 cm long; female flowers solitary or paired, pedicel 0.5–2.5 cm long, petals up to 3 cm long, ovary inferior, densely appressed or patent hairy. Fruit a globose to oblong-ellipsoid berry 2.5–7 cm × 1.5–6 cm, brownish-orange when ripe, smooth; fruit stalk 2–6 cm long, slender, not expanded upwards. Seeds ovoid, compressed, 6.5–9 mm × 5–6.5 mm × 2–3 mm, white, smooth.
The genus Cucumis includes about 30 species, 4 of which are economically important: cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.), melon and snake cucumber (Cucumis melo L.), West Indian gherkin (Cucumis anguria L.) and horned melon (Cucumis metuliferus Naudin). Cucumis hirsutus is the only species in the ‘hirsutus’ group of the subgenus Melo.
In Malawi the leaves are eaten at the end of the dry and beginning of the rainy season (October–November).
Cucumis hirsutus is found in woodland, wooded grassland and grassland, and as a weed on formerly cultivated ground, up to 2500 m altitude.
Cucumis hirsutus is exclusively collected from the wild.
Genetic resources and breeding
Since Cucumis hirsutus is widespread, there is no serious risk of genetic erosion. Only in the United States are a few accessions registered, all originating from South Africa. Breeders’ interest in Cucumis hirsutus is limited as transfer of genes by conventional breeding techniques to economically important Cucumis species is not possible.
It is likely that Cucumis hirsutus will remain a vegetable of local interest only.
• Jeffrey, C., 1978. Cucurbitaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 4. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 414–499.
• Jeffrey, C., 1980. A review of the Cucurbitaceae. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 81: 233–247.
• Kirkbride Jr., J.H., 1993. Biosystematic monograph of the genus Cucumis (Cucurbitaceae): botanical identification of cucumbers and melons. Parkway Publishers, Boone, North Carolina, United States. 159 pp.
• Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp. (Reprint: Williamson, J., 1975. Useful plants of Malawi. University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi).
• Meeuse, A.D.J., 1962. The Cucurbitaceae of southern Africa. Bothalia 8(1): 1–112.
• 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.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Cucumis hirsutus Sond. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.