Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Harv. & Sond., Fl. Cap. 2: 496 (1862).
2n = 24, 48
Cucumis prophetarum L. subsp. zeyheri (Sond.) C.Jeffrey (1962).
Wild cucumber (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Cucumis zeyheri is restricted to the eastern part of southern Africa: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
The non-bitter fruits are eaten raw or pickled. The bitter fruits are used as a (drastic) purgative.
There is no information on the nutritive value of the fruits, but probably it is comparable to cucumber.
The fruits of Cucumis zeyheri contain cucurbitacins B and D. Cucurbitacins, which are known from many Cucurbitaceae and various other plant species, exhibit cytotoxicity (including antitumour activity), anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities.
Perennial, monoecious, prostrate or rarely scandent herb, with simple tendrils; roots fibrous, woody; stems up to 2 m long. Leaves alternate, simple; petiole 0.5–4 cm long; blade ovate (rarely ovate-triangular), 2.5–9 cm × 2–6 cm, deeply palmately 3–5-lobed, rarely unlobed, slightly cordate at base, lobes variable but mostly elliptical or narrowly elliptical, each 3–5-lobed. Flowers solitary, unisexual, regular, 5-merous; receptacle 2.5–4.5 mm long; sepals 1–4 mm long; petals 4.5–9 mm long, yellow; male flowers with pedicel 3–12(–22) mm long, stamens 3; female flowers with pedicel 3–12 mm long, ovary inferior, densely softly hairy. Fruit an oblong, ellipsoid or obovoid-ellipsoid berry, 3.5–5 cm × 2.5–3.5 cm, concolorous yellow when ripe, spines slender, up to 1.5 cm long; fruit stalk 2–5 cm long. Seeds elliptical in outline, 5–8.5 mm × 2–4.5 mm × 1.5–2 mm, whitish.
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 zeyheri belongs to the ‘anguria’ group of the subgenus Melo.
Cucumis zeyheri occurs in open woodland, in grassland and as a weed on cultivated ground at 300–1650 m altitude.
Fruits are collected from wild plants.
Genetic resources and breeding
As Cucumis zeyheri is common, it is not threatened by genetic erosion. There are genebank accessions recorded in the Czech Republic, Spain, France and the United States. Fully fertile hybrids can be obtained from crosses of Cucumis zeyheri with Cucumis anguria, Cucumis africanus L.f. and Cucumis myriocarpus Naudin. Resistance to downy mildew (Pseudoperonospora cubensis) and scab (Cladosporium cucumerinum), both economically important pathogens of cucumber, has been found in Cucumis zeyheri.
As a vegetable Cucumis zeyheri will remain locally of some importance. As a source of disease resistance it may make an important contribution to breeding, especially of cucumber.
• Jeffrey, C., 1978. Cucurbitaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 4. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 414–499.
• Meeuse, A.D.J., 1962. The Cucurbitaceae of southern Africa. Bothalia 8(1): 1–112.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• Robinson, R.W. & Kowalewski, E., 1978. Interspecific hybridization of Cucumis. Cucurbit Genetics Cooperative Report 1: 40.
• Staub, J.E. & Palmer, M.J., 1987. Resistance to downy mildew [Pseudoperonospora cubensis (Berk. & Curt.) Rostow.] and scab (spot rot) [Cladosporium cucumerinum Ellis & Arthur] in Cucumis spp. Cucurbit Genetics Cooperative Report 10: 21–23.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Cucumis zeyheri Sond. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.