Friday, September 16, 2011

Lessons from a Bur Cucumber Vine

I was delighted today (Delight of the Day, in fact) to rediscover the bur cucumbers along my walking path. I noticed them last fall but was afraid they had been uprooted over the summer. My path takes me along high-voltage wires and this summer the power company did a sweep, chopping down saplings and trees under the wires. Since their hosts are gone, I thought the bur cucumbers might not have survived. They've been there all along, of course, but I didn't recognize them until the pods emerged. ("The pod things are back!")

I confess I brought a sample home so I could identify and learn about them. Now, as I write, two cucumbers sit beside me, resting against their vine and leaves, tendrils curling like party streamers.

here is a photo of bur cucumbers in the wild, taken by Judy at Lilac Gate:

I love the plump spikiness of them and the tight spirals of their tendrils.

“These fascinating fruits go out with a bang, having an explosive dehiscence mechanism. Each fruit contains four seeds, which develop under increasing hydrostatic pressure. If birds or small mammals don’t interfere with the fruit before it fully ripens, the fruit will expel its seeds at a speed of 11.5 m/s!”
Later in the year, the vine will support cucumber skeletons, like the one captured by Marianne Friers at Northview Diary:
That is the state in which I first noticed them, hanging in the bush like pale yellow lanterns, speaking of beauty in structure.

I shouldn't have worried about the plant's survival. "The only way to remove it permanently," says a writer at Ramshackle Solid of the genus, "is to dig up the root which can weigh up to 100 lbs."

So what lessons am I learning/remembering today from the bur cucumber vine?

  •  It's fun to learn. After years of ignorance, I now know this plant's name (I decided not to go for scientific version) and more about it. Before I admired it from afar, but now we are friends.
  • Root well.  The luxuriant growth of the vine…all those leaves collecting sunlight…must be directing nutrients to the root. Strong roots mean the plant can endure much, even vigilant power company employees.
  • If a source of support disappears, find another. The saplings on which I first noticed the vine are gone. It has exuberantly climbed bushes, the power line metal structure and other trees.
  • Hang on tight.  Those tightly-spiraled tendrils make for a good grip.
  • Protect yourself.  The spikes don't bother me when I touch them with my hands, but they are sharp to my lips. The fruits are poisonous, so eating them is not a good idea anyway, but Native Americans use them for medicinal purposes.
  • Give with enthusiasm. 11.5 m/s? That's effusive!
  • Dare to be a nuisance; go wild! Once I noticed it, now I realize it's everywhere. One of the descriptions I read describes it as "a nuisance like kudzu." When you seek support and hang on tight, some people will consider you a nuisance. Fie on them.
  • Degrade gracefully. Having released their seeds, the pods open to the air and let light shine through their structure. The reason I'm noticing such things in the plant world is, of course, because it's my own next developmental stage.
 Thank you, teacher.
You didn't come into this world.  You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. --Alan Watts

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