Cucumber plants (Cucumis sativus) belong to the Cucurbitaceae family of plants. Almost two hundred varieties of cucumber are available today, with new cultivars being developed all the time. The Cucurbitaceae family comprises 975 species which include gourds and pumpkins as well. With so many plants in this family, there are sure to be many plants that look like cucumbers.
Cucumbers grow as a sprawling vine type of plant and can be trellised to accommodate this growth pattern and use tendrils to secure the plant on a trellis or against a support structure.
The leaves have a triangular shape and can be lobed, meaning the leaf can have indented edges that can make the leaf look almost like a hand. The leaves are covered with bristles and arranged along the plant’s stem by a leaf stalk, also called a petiole.
Cucumber plants bear two types of flowers, male flowers and female flowers. Cucumber flowers are usually yellow, but there are also white-flowered varieties in this vast plant family. The male flower sits on the end of a flower stem, and the female flower is produced on the tip of an underdeveloped fruit. The shape of the fruit below the female flower is the first clue to the plant’s identity.
With such a wide variety of cucumbers available, there are even round cucumber varieties, which could cause confusion when trying to identify one variety from another.
1. Sponge Gourd (Luffa cylindrica)
Sponge gourd (Luffa cylindrica), another member of the Cucurbitaceae family, has become naturalized on most continents. Like the cucumber, the luffa, also sometimes spelled loofah, loves warm weather and does not tolerate cold. Sponge gourds are very fast-growing. Provided luffa has ideal conditions, the vine can grow up to forty-eight feet long.
The luffa vine, leaf structure, and flowers are very similar to the cucumber, and so is the shape of the fruit. Luffa flowers are also yellow, and a female flower presents as an individual flower on the plant, while male flowers are borne in clusters.
The fruit of the luffa can grow to one foot in length and is edible when harvested at a young age when the luffa is still green and tender. Once the fruit turns yellow or brown, the spongy spine makes it inedible. The luffa is usually grown for this sponge which is harvested once the fruit has dried out. The luffa sponge is excellent as a gentle way to exfoliate in the shower.
A Luffa grown in China holds the world record as the longest gourd ever grown. The fruit was a staggering fourteen feet long.
2. Cucuzza Squash (Lagenaria siceraria)
Cucuzza squash (Lagenaria siceraria) is a gourd within the Cucurbitaceae plant family. Cucuzza, which translates to super long squash, has the same vining habit as a cucumber plant and produces vigorous growth throughout summer. The cucuzza vine needs to be trellised as it can grow up to twenty-five feet long and add up to two feet of growth to the vine in a day.
In appearance, the leaf structure is very similar to a cucumber, with a characteristic triangle-shaped leaf and tendrils that attach to a trellis to help the plant climb and secure itself. Unlike most cucumbers, the flowers of the cucuzza are white. Separate male and female flowers are produced, and fruit grows very fast once female flowers are pollinated.
The cucuzza squash holds true to its name, and the fruit can grow as much as ten inches in a day and attain a fruit length of two feet. The young fruit of cucuzza looks very similar to cucumbers, and if harvested young, it can be eaten like cucumber or like zucchini squash. If cucuzza is left on the vine to ripen, it needs to be prepared like a winter squash, or it can be dried out like an ornamental gourd.
Related: 5 Plants That Look Like Squash
3. Snake Gourd (Trichosanthes cucumerina)
Snake gourd (Trichosanthes cucumerina) is another edible plant that looks like a cucumber. Snake gourds are heat-loving plants found in tropical and subtropical areas all around the globe. As with cucumber plants, the vine has triangle-shaped leaves and uses tendrils to secure the vine against support structures.
The snake gourd bears both types of flowers, male and female, just like a cucumber, but the flowers of this gourd are quite spectacular. The snake gourd flowers are white with five distinct petals. Each petal tip has a tendril network that unfolds into a lace-like network around the flower. Unlike most Cucurbitaceae, the snake gourd flowers have a strong scent and open after dark.
The fruit of the snake gourd (also called a serpent gourd) is long and slender and tends to curl and contort, giving rise to the plant’s name. The gourds, leaves, and tendrils are all edible. The fruit varies in shape and color, with some showing white and green stripes and others being plain white as young fruit. The mature fruit turns a bright red color when the skin hardens.
Snake gourds are mostly eaten as a young fruit when they are tender, and the taste is similar to zucchini. If the fruit is left to mature, the flavor changes significantly, and the pulp of a mature gourd can be used as a tomato substitute. Be sure to remove the seeds of a ripe gourd because they are toxic to humans.
4. Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobate)
Wild cucumber plants (Echinocystis lobate) look very similar to a cucumber plant initially, but the leaf becomes more lobed, with three to five lobes developing rather than the triangle shape of a true cucumber. Wild cucumbers grow vigorously and can engulf the plants they vine against in a thirty-foot-long vine.
The star-shaped wild cucumber flowers are white and present as clusters of male flowers growing together with female flowers that grow individually or sometimes in pairs between the male flowers. Wild cucumbers may go unnoticed, but only until they start to flower. From this point on, the profusion of flowers this plant produces attracts a lot of attention from insects.
The wild cucumber is not edible, and while it is shaped like a small roundish cucumber, it is covered with soft spines that grow to about two inches in length. The dried fruit from the wild cucumber is sometimes used in an ornamental manner or in flower arrangements.
Wild cucumbers burst open when they dry out, and each fruit disperses four seeds. This habit ensures vigorous self-seeding of the plant, making it hard to contain in the wild.
5. Cucamelons (Melothria scabra)
Cucamelon (Melothria scabra) also goes by the names of mouse melons or Mexican sour melons. These tiny melon-shaped fruits grow on vines that look very similar to a cucumber vine. Cucamelon tolerates cold a little better than cucumber plants do and is also more drought tolerant. While the cucamelon is part of the Cucurbitaceae plant family, it is not a cucumber nor a melon.
The cucamelon fruit may be small, but the plant can grow a vine that is ten feet long, so trellising is required when growing cucamelon. Cucamelon fruit has the outward appearance of a mini watermelon and grows no larger than one to one and a half inches in size. The flavor is best described as a lemony-flavored cucumber.
Cucamelon flowers are similar to cucumber flowers in color, and the plant also grows both male and female flowers at the same time. Once you notice female flowers on these plants, you do not have long to wait before getting to eat these gems straight off the vine, as it takes only a week from this point for the fruit to ripen.