Wild Little Cucumber

Melothria scabra | Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber

Back in the Spring I ordered a dump truck full of garden soil so I could begin building my raised bed garden. I had far more than I needed though so about half the pile remained. I had it covered for a while, but the tarp kept blowing away in the thunderstorms so eventually weeds began to creep up the soil pile.

Melothria scabra | Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber

A couple of weeks ago I noticed one weed that looked very strange. From a distance it looked unusually tropical, and I rolled my eyes contemplating what new invasive horror could be growing around here. I went out last Saturday morning and began yanking the weeds only to discover that it was a vine


Melothria scabra | Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber

As I threw them over my shoulder small fruits dropped on my head. I picked one up and it looked just like a watermelon – a teeny tiny itsy bitsy watermelon.

Melothria scabra | Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber

I’m talking itty bitty. And kinda fuzzy like a peach. And cuuuuuuute.


Melothria scabra | Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber

At first I thought it was just a baby watermelon, but a quick google search proved that it was definitely not. When I sliced it open it smelled like a cucumber so I looked up small cucumber varieties and found Melothria scabra, aka: Mexican Sour Gherkin/Cucumber, Cucamelon. The description of it is very consistent with what I’ve found, but I’m obviously guessing. There’s another one that fits the description too. Melothria pendula, aka: Creeping Cucumber or Guadeloupe Cucumber looks almost exactly like the M. scabra. It’s said to be a mild laxative so I’d really like to know for sure before I consider eating it!

Anyway, I’m really curious how its seeds got into local soil. This is not a common garden plant in Louisiana, and most people I showed the sample to have neither seen nor heard of it before. Now it’s growing wild near my garden. Heh! Trying to decide if I should let it live or go dig it up and cleanse the soil. I really don’t want cucamelons growing in between my landscaping plants next year, but if they turn out to be yummy (and non-toxic to humans) I might keep the seeds and grow them in a location I approve of next time.

Sabal minor

1-Dwarf_Palmetto_intro Today I did a presentation on Dwarf Palmettos for my master gardening class. Besides vegetable gardening, one of my other horticulture hobbies is rehabilitating the abused and neglected woods near my house. Lower Coast Algiers (aka: English Turn) has the LAST stand of bottomland hardwood forest in Orleans parish, and my goal is to rehab at least the few acres in my care, and possibly beyond. Right now there’s many abandoned acres still plagued with junk piles and scrappy underbrush. (Believe it or not, people still drive down here and try to illegally dump – sometimes in the middle of the street!)

This brings me to Dwarf Palmetto, aka: Sabal minor. Native to Louisiana and throughout the Gulf Coast region, they were found in abundance in Lower Coast Algiers’ woods. Unfortunately they’ve had to fight for space with invasive species like Chinese Tallow and Chinese Privet, and they’ve become sparse. The photo above is a slide from my presentation’s powerpoint. Sidenote: I’m not sure why the biological classification is coming up “unranked”, but three separate websites had it written that way.

Here’s an instagram pic I took of one on my property during winter.

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Besides being a staple of a healthy bottomland hardwood forest, Dwarf Palmettos are landscaping troopers. They love our heat and don’t mind our freezes so they can endure pretty far north for a palm. They’re also not too picky about soil conditions. You’ll often see them in landscaping when a tropical look is desired. This is a random photo of one used in landscaping.

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Dwarf Palmettos are slow growers, but can get up to 9 feet tall and nearly as wide. I took this photo at Palmetto Island State Park, Louisiana’s newest state park near Abbeville (very south of Lafayette). The palmettos there are huge and abundant.

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One thing that sets them apart from most other palms is that their trunks are underground so they appear “trunkless”. This makes digging them up and transplanting them very difficult, as you can see…

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photo via: Bob Harms, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin.

We aren’t the only ones who love palmettos. I walked right by Mr Copperhead snake here before doing a double-take and snapping this photo. Snakes like to bask in the filtered sunlight during the spring and summer and palmettos make perfect little beds.

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So my next step is to learn how to propagate Dwarf Palmettos! I already know what their seeds look like, but my lame attempt at tossing a few into some potting soil last year yielded nothing. I’m told their seeds are not very aggressive so I’ll have to hit the books and find out what kinda love song these guys need to get it on.

First Day of Gardening School

Today I began LSU AgCenter’s Master Gardener Program. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do ever since we moved to Lower Coast Algiers, and I’m excited that I’ll get to learn more about Louisiana-specific horticulture all summer {And play with school supplies! I have a wee obsession with nature and garden journaling}. Anyway, the course covers botany, plant propagation, soils, weeds, vegetable gardening, ornamental horticulture, pesticides and organic gardening, and a lot more. I really need this knowledge upgrade if I’m going to develop our land further, but I’m also looking forward to writing and photoblogging about it here.

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Speaking of journaling, I got the kids into it this summer too. They started their own nature journals last week, and they’ve been collecting specimens from around the yard and nearby woods. Afterwards they paste them into the journal and write a few lines about it. Sometimes they’ll just draw forest pictures or a leaf or bug they like. It’s amazing what you can get little kids to do when you threaten to throw the iPad in the toilet encourage them.

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Soggy Spring

Apparently we’re experiencing one of the wettest Aprils on record. I made numerous attempts at constructing the framework for my potager/kitchen garden, but nature had other plans – like washing away the four dumptruck loads of soil I had delivered, and raining so hard my tomato plants (still in pots) split in half. So this week, after enduring tornadoes and the blackest late-morning skies I’ve ever seen, I decided to stop making plans and just do whatever I could with the time (or weather) I was given.

11am view from my door. #nolaweather #lowercoastnola

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Part of that was observing the numerous birds that swooped in between monsoons to hunt for food. I know so very little about birds, and it’s my weakest area as an amateur naturalist. I got to meet the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Nyctanassa violacea, which I’m told is the same bird Cajuns call a “Gros-Bec”.

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The heavy rains also brought in the snakes (reptiles need high ground too!). This was a docile little Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoleta, hiding next to my potted plants by the back door. Since they eat rodents I am more than happy to have them hanging around the house. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

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Finally, the few dry weekend mornings I’ve had this spring were spent like this. Today is one of those perfect 70 degrees and sunny days (the forecast is showing a sunny week ahead too, but I’m understandably skeptical). So I’m finally going to jump in the garden and see what’s still possible to grow this season. Right now!

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Wetland Garden

This is where my garden is about to be installed. I had dump trucks scheduled to deliver soil this week but cancelled the order due to heavy rains. I’ve considered alternatives to a traditional garden, like filling flat boats with soil and using them as giant planter boxes…

Or I could grow rice. Or crawfish.

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