July 15, 2018

Edible Achoccha species (Cyclanthera sp. div.)


To genus Cyclanthera (family Cucurbitaceae) belong about 25-30 species origin to Americas (from southern USA to Argentina). They all are (sub-)tropical climbers. At least 3 species creates edible delicious vegetable fruits. I am describing below my experiences with growing these 3 species (4 taxons including botanical varieties). In northern temperate climates all these 3 edible species can be sown immediately outside in the first half of May.
Small Achoccha (Cyclanthera achocchilla) fruits
Achoccha, Achocha, Caigua, Caihua - (Cyclanthera pedata) this is a creeper up to 5m (16ft) long, which is used in Amazonian / Andean medicine and cultivated as a vegetable. The plant originates from the Andes, but it does not exist in the wild state - it can be found only in the tropics of the old and new world and in cultivation (or rarely escaped). Its fruits are edible (young - whole raw or cooked, and older - without seeds - boiled) and young boiled leaves. There are two varieties: var. pedata and var. edulis. They differ mainly in the size of the fruit. Variety var. edulis creates a longitudinal, asymmetrical ( a little resembling a shoe - hence the English names "slipper gourd", "lady's slipper"), hollow and often (softly) spiky berries about 15-20 cm (=6-8inch) long, while the fruits of the var. pedata are similar but reach only about half of this size. The advantage var. pedata often begins to bloom earlier and yields greater yield than var. edulis (from which you could not collect anything because late blooms if you grow it in cold temperate area). Seeds are black and angular about 1 cm (=0,4inch) long (var. pedata) or 1.5 cm(=0,6inch) (var. edulis). Variety var. pedata usually very well fruited in my experiences, and without larger efforts, gives a large yield (several dozen fruits from the plant). It is also resistant to diseases (my plants attacked only viral disease). In contrast, var. edulis, which usually blooms on a short day, is unprofitable in northern latitudes. The taste of fruits is specific: the raw ones resemble cucumber, but after cooking are completely different, specific (their aroma is sometimes describes as "carbolic"). But the most of people like it.  As already mentioned, it is also a medicinal plant - for example, seeds are used for lowering blood pressure (but be careful, because they are probably also poisonous). 
Cyclanthera pedata var. pedata 
The leaves of this species are palmately compound
The male and female flowers
It is quite large climber
Although the fruits of this variety are not large it gives good crop in northern temperate areas

Cyclanthera pedata var. edulis

This variety creates very large fruits
... but gives small crop because it is short-day flowering

Apart from this species, there are two other related plants with smaller, also edible, very tasty fruits (they are wild and only rarely cultivated):
Small Achoccha, Achocchilla (Cyclanthera achocchilla – other names: C. brachybotrys, C. tomentosa) with small fruits, covered with soft spines, which do not explode when ripe. The leaves are triangular or shallowly 3-5-lobed. Species native to South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia). It is very easy in temperate gardens and yields good crop. It blooms and fruits well in long-day condition and is day-length insensitive. It creates very numerous fruits in short time (in about 2,5-4 months).
The fruits are small but created abundantly and delicious (raw or cooked)
The leaves of this species are similar to common cucumber
Exploding Cucumber (Cyclanthera explodens, syn. C. brachystachia) – the climber with undivided leaves and exploding (when mature) - scattering seeds, very small (smaller than in the previous species) edible fruits. The leaves are deeply 3(5)-lobed. It is native to: South America (Venezuela, Colombia and Equador) and Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). It is very easy (day-length insensitive) but does not yields strong due to fruits are very small. 
This species creates very small fruits which break up when ripe
The leaves are deeply trilobed and fruits are asymmetric
There exists numerous other wild Cyclanthera species - if you have available the seeds of any of them please write to me.

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