It isn’t often that a plant makes me leap in the air and then erupt into giggles, but that is exactly what happened last week we came across ‘Pepino-de-São-Gregório’. Had no idea what exactly they were at the time, although I deduced they were some sort of gourd from the flowers and leaves. Then I saw the seed pods and was so intrigued that I couldn’t resist touching them. And that is when it all happened. MrB says my face was a picture! Here are a couple of videos we took after I had regained my composure.
Their scientific name is Ecballium elaterium, and their English name Squirting Cucumber which exactly describe their appearance and behaviour.
Just look again at that first video of the seeds, they are being squirted.The second video demonstrates the speed of the action as well as the fruit pod firing off in the opposite direction to the seeds. The videos don’t quite get across the drama of the moment when you experience this for yourself in person, but hopefully you have got a feel of why they are also called ‘Exploding Cucumbers’.
Whilst common in the Mediterranean they are more localised in the Algarve. You will usually find them on sandy waste ground, we spotted these though on the embankments and paths surrounding the ‘newer’ castle in Alcoutim. As with all gourds (I think!) there are female and male flowers and unsurprisingly given my attempts as a botanical tourist, I’ve only photographed the female! I have also been unable to discover why they are named after Saint Gregory in Portugal. At first I thought it might be because they are considered a medicinal plant, however as many of you may already known Saint Gregory was known for his educational work and church leadership. In fact he is considered the ‘Father of Christian Worship’ so really not sure why an exploding cucumber is named after him. I find it particularly intriguing as the Spanish call them ‘Gherkins of the Devil’! Which reminds me whilst in small doses the ‘cucumbers’ are used by some for medicinal purposes, this is a toxic plant and in high doses is lethal. So be careful.