The prickly cucumber Echinocystis lobata, also known as hedgehog cucumber or lobed prickly cucumber, is a so-called neophyte, which means that it has migrated to Central Europe from other continents. However, unlike numerous other neophytes, the spiny cucumber is a harmless candidate. In Germany the cucumber, which belongs to the cucurbit family, is cultivated as an ornamental plant. It is the only member of the genus Echinocystis.

Classification and growth

These bizarre plants, like horn cucumbers or other ornamental cucumbers, are annual climbing plants whose stems reach a length of one to six, rarely even eight meters, and branch out heavily above.

The small, white, fragrant flowers appear in long racemes in July / August. Shortly afterwards, in autumn, green, about 3-5 cm long, egg-shaped and prickly fruits that resemble those of the thorn apple develop. These 5-6 mm long spines are soft and, like other ornamental cucumbers, not suitable for consumption.

Location and soil

Spiky cucumbers Echinocystis lobata thrive primarily in sheltered, warm, sunny and partially shaded locations, for example on a house wall facing south. In places that are too shady, the plant produces significantly fewer of these decorative fruits.

The soil should be as humus as possible, rich in nutrients, evenly moist, permanently permeable and pH-neutral. It should never dry out completely. So that this annual plant can develop well, the soil should always be well loosened and moderately fertilized and watered.
If the cucumber is planted in buckets, regular watering is even more important than with plants that are grown in the garden. Fresh substrate should always be used for replanting.

Watering and fertilizing

In persistent drought, regular watering is required, but waterlogging must be avoided at all costs, as this plant is very sensitive to this. In order to be able to keep the moisture in the soil longer, a layer of mulch is recommended, which is spread over the root area.

So that this annual plant can develop well, the soil should always be well loosened and moderately fertilized and watered. If it has been mulched, further fertilization can usually be dispensed with.


  • The cucumber Echinocystis lobata grows very quickly.
  • Accordingly, it can also be cut back if necessary.
  • However, withered shoots should not be cut.
  • Otherwise none of these tiny prickly fruits could develop.

Propagation by sowing

This ornamental cucumber can be grown in the house from the end of March to mid-April or sown directly in the garden towards the end of April. For the preculture, the warmth-requiring seeds are placed in small pots in a permeable substrate and then placed in a sunny place at least 20 degrees warm. This can be a heated winter garden or greenhouse, but also the windowsill. There are about three seeds in each pot.

The young plants can only be planted outside when night frosts are no longer to be expected and the temperatures no longer drop below 10 degrees at night. When planting out, you should make sure that the space required per plant is around 50 cm. In the case of direct sowing, the plants must then be separated accordingly.

Climbing aids for the cucumber

This plant can be cultivated both as a comprehensive ground cover and as a climbing plant. However, if you do not want this fast-growing plant to spread as a ground cover, it makes sense to tie the tendrils of the cucumber up to an appropriate framework.
Annual climbing plants, which also include the cucumber, usually always need a climbing aid and can thus grow relatively quickly into a dense screen, sun and wind protection.

Various wire or lattice structures that you can easily make yourself, but also fences and trellises made of wood, are suitable as climbing aids. In addition, most hardware stores offer climbing aids in different designs. With self-made climbing aids, you should make sure that the gaps between the meshes or rods are neither too large nor too small in order to ensure sufficient stability of the respective climbing aid.


  • It is not necessary to overwinter the cucumber as this plant is annual.
  • It dies in winter and only its seeds overwinter outside.
  • In relatively mild winters, these seeds can then germinate in the wild.
  • As a rule, however, the cucumber has to be sown again and again.


The fruits of this ornamental cucumber can be harvested in autumn. In any case, they should be harvested before the onset of frost. The small cucumber-like fruits, which are very decorative thanks to their spines, are not edible, but can be used for a wide variety of decorative purposes, such as arrangements.

Diseases and pests

The cucumber Echinocystis lobata is usually not attacked by diseases and pests.


The poisonous substances in the hedgehog cucumber are cucurbitacins. These are bitter substances that are mainly found in pumpkin and figwort plants. In the hedgehog cucumber, the toxins are in both the fruits and the roots. With the flowering or the fruit ripening, the intensity of the toxins increases even further.

Peculiarities of this plant

The relatively bare stalks of the spiny cucumber are angularly furrowed, heavily branched towards the top and can reach a maximum length of 8 m under optimal conditions. The leaves are about 8 cm tall, long-stalked, lobed in five parts and form a dense screen or protection from the sun. In summer, the plants form both male and female delicate fragrant panicles of flowers.
The plum-sized fruits with small soft spines develop later, which botanically belong to the berries. These form in the leaf axils and each contain one to four seeds in so-called ‘fruit pockets’. The outer shell of these fruits dries up relatively quickly, leaving behind very filigree and effective structures.

Alternatives to the cucumber Echinocystis lobata

  • Spiky cucumber Cucumis myriocarpus – This ornamental cucumber is an annual plant with 3-4 cm large, prickly, green fruits with even, white stripes. The spines are soft and about 3 mm long. These fruits are harvested in autumn and, like those of the cucumber Echinocystis lobata, are not edible.
  • Ornamental / Igelgurke Cucumis dipsaceus – This hedgehog cucumber produces elongated, cylindrical, light green fruits that are completely covered with flexible spines. It is a very high-yielding variety and here, too, the fruits are only ornamental and not edible.
  • Ornamental cucumber (long-haired cucumber) – Cucumis hirsutus – The green, spherical fruits of this ornamental cucumber are completely covered with flexible approximately 1 cm long spines. The outer prickly shell is reminiscent of that of the chestnut. The fruits are also only suitable as decoration and are not edible.
  • Ornamental cucumber Cucumis africanus – The decorative, elongated fruits of this variety are striped beige-light brown. The fruits, which are covered with large, light beige-colored spines, have a relatively long shelf life, but are also not edible.
  • Horn / Stachelgurke Kiwano – Cucumis metuliferus – With 7-12 cm, the fruits of this species are relatively large. They are covered with many blunt thorns and, in contrast to the numerous other ornamental and prickly cucumbers, are edible. The initially greenish color changes to light yellow-reddish to orange when fully ripe. This cucumber is eaten raw. Their taste is mildly fruity, similar to that of melon.

The cucumber Echinocystis lobata is an annual climbing plant that produces very bizarre fruits that are suitable for a wide variety of decorations. Although this plant belongs to the neophytes, it is completely harmless for the local vegetation. In the right location, the plant is relatively easy to care for and develops a large number of these decorative fruits. Both waterlogging and locations that are too shady should be avoided as far as possible.

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