Iowa Department of Agriculture identifies area invasive vegetation as wild cucumber

What is it? ... Many driving the roadways of Allamakee County may have noticed the lighter flowering vegetation (as pictured above and below) that seems to be taking over area roadsides, ditches or fence lines. At the request of Allamakee County Weed Commissioner Laurie Moody, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship entomologist Lane Kozel recently visited Allamakee County and identified the expanding growth as wild cucumber.

by Lissa Blake

It seems like it’s taking over the county this summer. A white, flowering vine which is engulfing trees and shrubs and can be seen along fences and in ditches throughout Allamakee County, especially noticeable along State Highway 9 between Waukon and Decorah.
The plant is echinocystis lobata, more commonly known as wild cucumber.

Allamakee County Weed Commissioner Laurie Moody recently contacted Lane Kozel, entomologist from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, to find out more about the invasive weed. Moody said from the description, Kozel was concerned it may be Mile-A-Minute weed, which has also begun to establish a presence in Iowa; however, when he visited the county, Kozel realized it was wild cucumber.

“The wild cucumber has five pronounced leaves with a white head. Although it’s called wild cucumber, it will produce a seed that looks more like a miniature watermelon,” said Moody in a presentation to the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors in regard to the invasive vegetation.
Moody said the plant is a “very aggressive” annual. At present, the plant is developing its pods. It is best controlled by cutting or pulling it at the base when it is small, according to Moody, who further advised that it’s best to destroy the vines before they have the opportunity to produce fruits and additional seeds. If allowed to produce fruit, there will likely be more plants next year.

Although wild cucumber can sometimes choke out other, less desirable weeds, it can also be harmful to trees or other shrubbery if the vine grows over the tree canopy and covers much of the tree’s foliage, ultimately depriving the tree of sunlight. The actual fruit produced by the plant resembles a small watermelon with a spiny exterior. It is not edible but, instead, serves as a seed-producing pod.

Moody said once the seed pod has formed, “the only way to get a foothold on it is mass cutting at the base and spraying it.”

When asked why the plant seems to be so prevalent this year, Moody said Kozel wasn’t sure. “This is an annual. It could be all the rain … It definitely is growing more prolifically in unmaintained areas,” she said.

Moody added the vine is fast-growing, but is not on the State’s primary or secondary noxious weed list. And although the County typically manages weeds along the roadsides with herbicides, the sprays being used on noxious weeds are not making it to the wild cucumber.

Moody added the best way for the County to get a handle on it is for each property owner to take care of it on their own. “We can’t tell anyone to do it, but the easiest thing is that if we know of an area, to mow it when it’s young and hit it with chemicals,” she explained. “People need to cut the stalks off so birds don’t eat it and spread the seeds … Everybody is going to have to take care of their own properties.”

For more information about wild cucumber and its fast-growing presence this year, contact Moody at 563-568-4104.

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