Groundnut and Wild Cucumber: Two August Blooming Vines

In the last several days, I have been paying attention to two vines that are now flowering, two species that I have not been aware of in Eliza Howell Park prior to this summer.

One is Groundnut, sonetimes called Potato Bean or Hopnis (and other names). This Groundnut (not to be confused with the groundnut that we usually call peanut) is a native perennial that has been used as a source of human food for centuries.

As perhaps can be seen from the flower, Groundnut is a plant in the bean family.

Groundnut vines climb on other plants by twining, wrapping around and up branches of shrubs.

The beans, which will mature in the Fall, are edible, but it is especially the underground tubers, sometimes compared to small potatoes, that have been so long and frequently used as a food by many different native Americans, who then passed on this knowledge to European immigrants.

Now, in the middle of August, the vines look like this.

The second vine that I am watching is Wild Cucumber, an annual that is also native to this part of North America. Though the name might suggest that it is edible, the fruit is considered poisonous.

The numerous small white flowers are evident — even conspicuous — where they have climbed in a blackberry bramble.

Each of the flower stems contains clusters of many tiny male flowers.

A single female flower is found at the base of the flower stems. When fertilized, it will develop into a spiny cucumber-like pod, perhaps two inches in length. When ripe, it will “explode,” spreading seeds.

Right now, the individual female flower looks like this.

Though I have no idea how the seed that produced this vine came to Eliza Howell, I am impressed by its vigorous growth since spring. It climbs with the use of tendrils.

When I was anticipating my August observations this year, I did not expect that I would be focused on either of these two vines.

After hundreds of nature walks in the park, I continue to see something different often, even frequently. There is always more to observe and learn here!

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