What are all the vines along the river?If you have taken a walk lately along one of the city parks that border the James River, you may have noticed new and interesting vegetation trying to take over the landscape.
By: John Zvirovski, Sun Garden Editor, The Jamestown Sun
If you have taken a walk lately along one of the city parks that border the James River, you may have noticed new and interesting vegetation trying to take over the landscape. Drapes of vines frosted in sweet smelling, creamy white flowers seem to be everywhere. In fact, it almost seems like they have a mind of their own as they attempt to cover all the dead trees and shrubs along the riverbanks. These plants are better known as wild cucumber vines.
These vines seem new to most of us, but the fact is, they have grown along the riverbanks every year. They seem to be more prevalent this year, because they are now more visible with less vegetative cover due to the recent years of flooding. Now that there is more sunlight reaching the ground, these vines are flourishing!
Wild cucumber vines are vigorous-growing annuals that grow quickly in warm weather. The month of July was the perfect temperature to get these vines to flourish. With ideal conditions in rich, moist soils along waterways and plenty of sunlight, these aggressive climbers can grow anywhere from 15 to 30 feet long in a single season.
Their thin, bristly stems resemble that of the domestic cucumber plants with finely dissected five-lobed leaves produced on long stems. As they vine, the stems develop three-pronged tendrils, which curl around anything they touch to support them as they climb to unreachable heights.
In midsummer, these inconspicuous vines will produce masses of fragrant ivory colored flowers that eventually cover the vines, making them seem frosted. Their light scent fills the humid evening air with the best of fragrances. The vines produce both male and female flowers on the same stem. Male flowers are produced in large clusters where female flowers are formed singularly or in pairs. When pollinated, they produce small round fruits that will reach about 1 inch across and up to 2 inches long.
The green fruit are covered in shorts spines, but are not edible. Unlike the fleshy domestic cucumber, these fruit are air-filled puffs made mostly of thin fibers. They are extremely lightweight and contain very little attainable moisture. Many people harvest these fruit as they change color to place into dried or fresh arrangements for a little extra texture.
As these fruits begin to dry during the autumn months, they pop or burst from the bottom to disperse the four oblong black/brown seeds they produce.
In the springtime, when the threat of frost has passed, these seeds will begin to germinate to begin a new life cycle. If you are looking to collect seed from these vines, harvest the pods right before they turn brown and dry them in a pail, so when they pop, the seeds are not lost.
Many people consider these vines to be invasive, but overall they are quite harmless to other plant materials. The greatest harm they create is by choking out other grasses and plants on the ground. Since they are annual plants, the easiest way to control them is to pull them at the root when they are young before they flower or set fruit.
They are easier to pull when young, so keep that in mind if they become an issue in the future. There are chemicals that can be used to eliminate them also, but I would advise against any type of that eradication, especially around waterways. As with any chemicals, they tend to do more harm to the environment than good, so be extremely careful with their use.
Even though these vines are common in the wild, you can grow them in your own landscape by collecting the seeds. They work well to quickly cover a fence, trellis, or arbor for a season. If you like their performance, you can plant them again the following year and if you need a change, it is easy to just plant something new.
Sometimes grabbing a few seeds from nature it the best way to add a little of the native habitat into your gardens. Just use caution that you are not collecting seeds from a protected or endangered species, as this is illegal.
The wild cucumber vines will be in bloom for the next few weeks. The next time you want to take a walk through one of our area parks, take some time to inspect these vines a little closer and breathe in their light scent.
Sometimes we need to slow down and take in all the unique things that grow around us in nature. With a slightly slower pace, you will also discover many amazing things growing in nature’s own garden without any nurturing from any of us. They tend to just thrive on their own and are free for all of us to enjoy.