Squirting Cucumber

Ecballium elaterium (L.) A.Rich.

Synonyms - Momordica elaterium

Family: - Cucurbitaceae


Ecballium is from the Greek ekballein meaning to throw out and refers the forcible ejection of seeds from the fruit when ripe

Elaterium refers to another genus in the Cucurbitaceae.

Squirting Cucumber refers to the cucumber shaped fruit and the squirting out of the seeds when ripe.

Other Names:

Spitting Cucumber


A low lying, annual to perennial vine to 1.5 m diameter with large, hairy, triangular leaves that have no tendrils. Yellow flowers in summer give rise to green, hairy, egg shaped fruits that detach violently squirting seeds and juice when ripe and disturbed.



Two. Oval. Tip indented. Edges smooth. Base squarish. Surface frosty, with prominent veins on upper surface. Hairy. Short petiole.

First leaves:

First leaf oval, second and later leaves more triangular. Tip indented. Edges smooth. Base squarish. Surface frosty appearance, prominent veins. Covered in short hairs. Long petiole


Triangular to heart shaped with no tendrils.


Stipules -

Petiole - Long, thick and fleshy. As long as to twice as long as the blade. Hairy.

Blade - Dark green on top with scattered, short distorted hairs, lower surface whitish due to dense hairs. Triangular, cupped, 30-150 mm long by 30-150 mm wide, succulent. Tip pointed to rounded. Edges irregularly lobed or coarsely toothed and undulating. Base square to notched. Hairy.


Low lying, trailing, thick, rough, succulent, striped, up to 1800 mm long, turned upwards at the ends. Densely hairy. No tendrils.

Flower stem -

Flower head:

In leaf axils. Male and female flowers occur on the same plant. Male flowers are in terminal clusters. Female flowers are single on thick, fleshy stalks in leaf axils or with male flowers.


Yellow, 15-50 mm diameter.

Ovary -

Style - short.

Stigmas - 2 forked.

Sepals - Spear shaped to parallel sided

Petals - Pale yellow, bell shaped with 5 lobes. Greenish, parallel veins in the throat.

Stamens - 3.

Anthers - Orange, free with broad shallow lobes.


Greenish, fleshy, drooping, oval capsule, 30-50 mm long by 15-25 mm diameter. Densely hairy, Each hair distorted and arising from a small wart. Contains about 50 seeds. Fruit carried on an arched stalk slightly longer than as the fruit.

The fruit contains fluid held under pressure and the fluid and seeds are squirted out from the base when the fruit ripens and is violently ejected from the vine. Seeds may be squirted 3-8 metres as the fruit flies through the air.


Oval, flattened, 4-5 mm long by 2.5 mm wide. Light to dark brown, shiny. Tip round. Edges smooth. Base has stalk remnant. Surface slightly dimpled and hairless.


Perennial rootstock. Stout branched taproot, 120-150 mm wide at the crown, gnarled, parsnip like.

Key Characters:

No tendrils.

Corolla rotate

Stamens apparently 3.

Filaments free

Anther cells sinuous, free.

Connective not produced above anthers.

Disk none

Seeds discharged elastically.

Adapted for John Black.


Life cycle:

Annual or perennial. Seeds germinate at any time of the year and grow rapidly in warm conditions forming a substantial rootstock.. Plants flower from December to March. Tops tend to die off in winter and new growth emerges from the perennial rootstock next spring.


Drought tolerant.


From seed and perennial rootstock.

Flowering times:

Summer in Western NSW, SA and WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:

Parsnip like rootstock. Root fragments often sprout if damaged.



Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spread mainly by seed, especially along railway tracks where the disturbance of trains causes the squirting of seeds onto passing carriages.

Origin and History:

Mediterranean, South West Asia, Southern Europe.

Probably introduced as an ornamental or curio.

In Adelaide Botanic Gardens in 1858. Naturalised in Victoria by 1907.

First found in Hobart and WA in the 1980's.



One infestation has been recorded and eradicated in WA.

An important weed of Israel, Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon and Morocco.



Warm temperate


Sandy or stony soils and often coastal.

Plant Associations:



Ornamental and curio.

The fruit and juice contains elaterin or cucurbitacin E which is very bitter and controls intestinal worms. It was cultivated for these drugs in England and Malta into the nineteenth century.


Weed of disturbed areas, roadsides and railways and occasionally crops and pastures. Tends to grow in clumps eliminating most other vegetation.


Possibly toxic, bitter taste. It is rarely eaten by stock but is suspected of blinding horses if the juice from the fruit is squirted into their eyes.




Noxious weed of Tasmania.

Management and Control:

It is fairly easily controlled by cultivation, cropping or trampling by livestock.

Amitrole and 2,4-d usually provide good control of actively growing plants.


Eradication strategies:

Mechanically remove isolated plants, ensuring as much of the root system is removed as possible.

Dense stands may be cultivated for a few years to control plants, seedlings and sprouts from root fragments.

A mixture of 1 L of Tordon 75-D plus 250 mL of non ionic wetting agent in 100 L of water applied annually when plants are actively growing will provide control and leave a residue to control seedlings or regrowth from roots. Spray the plant and an 8 m buffer area until just wet.

Herbicide resistance:

None reported.

Biological Control:


Related plants:

No weeds in the same genus.

Plants of similar appearance:

Camel Melon (Citrullus lanatus)

Colocynth (Citrullus colocynthis)

Prickly Paddymelon (Cucumis myriocarpus)


Black, J.M. (1965). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P807.

Bodkin, F. (1986). Encyclopaedia Botanica. (Angus and Robertson, Australia).

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P625 Photo.

Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney).

Harden, Gwen J. (1991). Flora of NSW. (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney). Volume . P. Diagram.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P142. Photo.

Lamp, C. and Collet, F. (1990). A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne).

Lazarides, M. and Cowley, K. and Hohnen, P. (1997). CSIRO handbook of Australian Weeds. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #366.1.

Moerkerk, M.R. and Barnett, A.G. (1998). More Crop Weeds. R.G. and F.J. Richardson, Melbourne. P77. Diagrams. Photos.

Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson, E.G. (1992) Noxious weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P411-412. Photos.


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