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he cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae),
with some 900 mostly tropical spe-
cies, is a family of mostly climbing
or trailing, usually perennial her-
baceous plants with a worldwide
distribution in tropical and to a
lesser extent
in subtropi-
cal and temperate areas of the
. A number of species
are of great economic value
as food plantspumpkins
and other squashes, melons
and cucumbersand others
are used as medicine. But
for the grower of succulent
plants, the most interesting
species are those from arid
and semiarid regions that
develop a caudex. Tropi-
cal Africa and Madagascar
are particularly rich in spe-
cies of interest to collectors
(Cephalopentandra, Coccinia,
Corallocarpus, Cyclantherop-
sis, Gerrardanthus, Kedros-
tis, Momordica, Odosicy-
os, Trochomeriopsis, Xerosi-
cyos, and Zygosicyos), and in
North America the most
well known caudiciform
species belong to Ibervil-
lea and Marah. But little is
known of the South Ameri-
can caudiciform Cucurbita-
ceae, of which Apodanthera
is a representative.
Apodanthera was described
in 1841 and was last revised
in 1916
. Recent accounts cite between 15 and 25
, the majority in Brazil, though the best-
known is Apodanthera undulata of United States
Southwest and Mexico, where it is known as Coy-
ote Melon or Meln Loco. It develops an under-
ground caudex up to one meter in diameter.
Special Issue: Eastern Brazil
Caudiciform cucumbers of Bahia,
Animals have grazed on the vines of an Apodanthera congestiflora specimen
growing in the open, causing the plant branch just above the caudex. It
looks like a miniature bottle tree, an effect that is readily achieved in cultiva-
tion. The neighboring shrub with peeling bark is Jatropha mutabilis.
There are eight species of Apodanthera in the
state of Bahia, Brazil. Some develop an aboveg-
round caudex up to six inches (15 cm) in diame-
ter, and as the bases of the vines are not decidu-
ous, with time they thicken to become one inch
(2.5 cm) or more in diameter.
We found Apodanthera congestiflora and A. vil-
losa in flower and fruit in the central Bahia town
of Morro do Chapu. The two grew together at a
site about 22 km to the west of Morro do Chapu
(where A. villosa is endemic), and a large popula-
tion of A. congestiflora was found 16 km southwest
of the village Olhos Dgua do Fagundes towards
the cave Gruta dos Brejes. Both species grow in
sandy soil, sometimes out in the open but usual-
ly at the base of spiny shrubs, which afford some
protection to the caudex. The vines climb the sur-
rounding shrubbery in order to reach the sun, and
when without leaves are rather inconspicuous.
These two species are similar when out of flow-
er and fruit: both have trifoliolate leaves (divided
in three leaflets) that are pubescent on both faces,
and each has a rounded to oblong aboveground
caudex about two to four inches (510 cm) in
diameter with brown to dark gray bark. But with
careful observation they can still be distinguished.
A. villosa has vines whose epidermis is glabrous
(meaning without hairs), glaucous, and often bright
orange when exposed to the sun, whereas vines of
A. congestiflora have a finely pubescent (hairy) epi-
dermis, green but soon developing a brown bark.
While these characteristics are useful to distin-
guish the two species at Morro do Chapu, they
are not unique, and related species share some
the same characteristics. The best way to posi-
tively identify the species is to observe their flow-
ers and fruits.
Both A. congestiflora and A. villosa are dioe-
cious: an individual has either male or female
flowers only. The flowers are born in dense clus-
ters in the axils of the leaves (in fact A. congesti-
flora was named because of this characteristic: con-
I Fruit clusters of Apodanthera congestiflora can contain a few dozen fruitsa pleasing coffee color with
linear dots and markings of latte foam; some young flowers are still visible. L Apodanthera villosa. A cluster
of male flowers (left); female flowers (center), some already pollinated and developing into young fruits;
and a cluster of young fruits (right), which turn orange when ripe. Observe the long white hairs in the flower
tubes, noted in the species name. Vines are bright orange.
gest = dense, flora = flowers). But other than this,
the flowers and fruits of these species are quite
distinct: A. villosa has dense long hairs in the
flower tube (villosa = hairy), while A. congestiflo-
ra has a naked flower tube. The fruits of A. vil-
losa are ovoid, spindle-shaped (beaked) at the
apex, rounded at the base, at first green and rip-
ening orange. A. congestiflora fruits are ellipsoid
to cylindrical, rounded at both ends, and coffee-
colored with whitish streaks and dots in longi-
tudinal rows.
The fruits of both species have just a few seeds
in them, but many fruits are produced in a clus-
ter. Seeds collected in August and sowed in Octo-
ber 2008 germinated fast, and seedlings soon
developed a caudex derived from swelling of the
hypocotyl (that part of the seedling between the
root and the cotyledons or first leaves). The lit-
tle caudices were almost an inch wide in just three
months. A couple of collected specimens proved
to be very adaptable to pot culture, quickly root-
ing and producing lots of new vines; they are not
rot-prone and can take frequent watering when
in growth. If left dry for an extended period the
plants drop their thinner vines and leaves and
become dormant, awakening quickly when water-
ing is resumed. Although these Apodanthera spe-
cies from Bahia do not develop large caudices, the
caudex has an interesting bark which is often len-
ticellate (textured with small warts), and because
the vine bases are persistent, the vines can be
pinched back to keep them in check and also to
make them branch so that a nice canopy can form
above the caudex. Hence, the plants can be trained
as a miniature bottle-shaped tree, ideal for bon-
sai display.
1 Newton LE. 2002. Cucurbitaceae. In Eggli U (editor). Illustrated
Handbook of Succulent Plants: Dicotyledons. Spring-Verlag, Berlin,
Germany. 2 Cogniaux A. 1916. Cucurbitaceae: Fevilleae et Melothrieae.
In Engler A (editor), Das Pflanzenreich IV. 275. I. (Heft 66). W Engelmann,
Leipzig, Germany. 3 Jeffrey C. 1992. The genus Apodanthera
(Cucurbitaceae) in Bahia State (Brazil). Kew Bulletin 47(3): 517528. 4
The International Plant Names Index 2008. Published on the Internet [accessed 26 December 2008].
Apodanthera villosa caudices can be found growing under shrubs (left). We found some in leaf (right).
A. congestiflora, A. fasciculata, A. glaziovii, A. hatsch-
bachii, A. hindii, A. succulenta, A. trifoliata, and A. villosa