CUCUMBER (Cucumis salivus, Fr. concombre, O. Fr. coucombre, whence the older English spelling and pronunciation " cowcumber," the standard in England up to the beginning of the 1 8th century), a creeping plant of the natural order Cucurbitaceae. It is widely cultivated, and originated probably in northern India, where Alphonse de Candolle affirms (Origin of Cultivated Plants) that it has been cultivated for at least three thousand years. It spread westward to Europe and was cultivated by the ancient Greeks under the name C'IKVOS; it did not reach China until two hundred years before the Christian era. It is an annual with a rough succulent trailing stem and stalked hairy leaves with three to five pointed lobes; the stem bears branched tendrils by means of which the plant can be trained to supports. The short-stalked, bell-shaped flowers are unisexual, but staminate and pistillate are borne on the same plant; the latter are recognized by the swollen warty green ovary below the rest of the flower. The ovary develops into the " cucumber " without fertilization, and unless seeds are wanted, it is advisable to pinch off the male flowers.
There are a great many varieties of cucumber in cultivation, which may be grouped under the two headings (i) forcing, (2) field varieties.
1. The former are large-leaved strong-growing plants, not suited to outdoor culture, with long smooth-rinded fruit; there are many excellent varieties such as Telegraph, Sion House, duke of Edinburgh, etc. The plants are grown in a hot-bed which is prepared towards the end of February from rich stable manure, leaves, etc. A rich turfy loam with a little well-decomposed stable manure forms a good soil. The seeds are sown singly in rich, sandy soil in small pots early in February and plunged in a bottom heat. After they have made one or two foliage-leaves the seedlings are transferred to larger pots, and ultimately about the middle of March to the hot-bed. Each plant is placed in the centre of a mound of soil about a foot deep and well watered with tepid water. The plants should be well watered during their growing period, and the foliage sprinkled or syringed two or three times a day. In bright sunshine the plants are lightly shaded. When grown in frames the tops of the main stems are pinched off when the stems are about 2 ft. long; this causes the development of side shoots on which fruits are borne. When these have produced one or two fruits, they are also stopped at the joint beyond the fruit. When grown in greenhouses the vines may be allowed to reach the full length of the house before they are stopped. To keep the fruits straight they may be grown in cylindrical glass tubes about a foot long, or along narrow wooden troughs. If seeds are required one or more female flowers should be selected and pollen from male flower placed on their stigmas.
2. The outdoor varieties are known as hill or ridge cucumbers. They may be grown in any good soil. A warm, sheltered spot with a south aspect and a mound of rich, sandv loam with a little leafmould placed over a hot-bed of dung and leaves is recommended. The mounds or ridges should be 4 to 5 ft. apart, and one plant is placed in the centre of each. The seeds are sown in March in light, rich soil in small pots with gentle heat. The seedlings are repotted and well hardened for planting out in June. The plants must be well watered in and, until established, shaded by a hand-light from bright sunshine. When the leading shoots are from 1 1 to 2 ft. long the tips are pinched off to induce the formation of fruit-bearing side-shoots. If seed is required a pistillate flower is selected and pollinated. There are numerous varieties distinguished by size and the smooth or prickly rind. King of the Ridge has smooth fruits a foot or more long; gherkin, a short, prickly form, is much used for pickling.
Cucumber is subject to the attacks of green fly, red spider and thrips ; for the two latter, infected leaves should be sponged with soapy water; for green fly careful fumigating is necessary.
The Sikkim cucumber, C. sativus var. sikkimensis, is a large fruited form, reaching 15 in. long by 6 in. thick, grown in the Himalayas of Sikkim and Nepal. It was discovered by Sir Joseph Hooker in the eastern Himalayas in 1848. He says " so abundant were the fruits, that for days together I saw gnawed fruits lying by the natives' paths by thousands, and every man, woman and child seemed engaged throughout the day in devouring them." The fruit is reddish-brown, marked with yellow, and is eaten both raw and cooked.
The West India gherkin is Cucumis Anguria, a plant with small, slender vines, and very abundant small ellipsoid green fruit covered with warts and spines. It is used for pickling.
Cucumbers were much esteemed by the ancients. According to Pliny, the emperor Tiberius was supplied with them daily, both in summer and winter. The kishuim or cucumbers of the scriptures (Num. xi. 5; Isa. i. 8) were probably a wild form of C. Melo, the melon, a plant common in Egypt, where a drink is prepared from the ripe fruit. Peter Forskiil, one of the early botanical writers on the country, describes its preparation. The pulp is broken and stirred by means of a stick thrust through a hole cut at the umbilicus of the fruit; the hole is then closed with wax, and the fruit, without removing it from its stem, is buried in a little pit; after some days the pulp is found to be converted into an agreeable liquor (see Flora aegyptiacoarabica, p. 168, 1775). The squirting cucumber, Ecballium Elaterium, the 2t/cuos iiypios of Theophrastus, furnishes the drug elaterium (q.v.).
See Naudin in Annal. des set. nat. ser. 4 (Botany), t. xi. (1859); G. Nicholson, Dictionary of Gardening (1885); L. H. Bailey, Cyclopaedia of American Horticulture (1900).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)