I recently encountered a new plant that I may have seen before, but I don't remember doing so, and if I did, I don't think I ever knew what it was. At first, I thought it might be some kind of hops - based on the leaf shape.
A closer look revealed curling tendrils and tiny white flowers that were somewhat fragrant. I knew it wasn't hops after I looked more closely, but I certainly didn't recognize it.
The plant was climbing up some alder bushes along the sides of my walking path at the waterfowl park, pictured below. I love those beautiful green pathways - they are so peaceful to walk on and I enjoy discovering all the new wildlife there - plant, animal and bird! I figured it was probably a native plant to the area, and decided to try to find it in my field guide.
Sure enough, I was able to identify it as the wild cucumber, Echinocystis lobata, also called prickly cucumber or balsam apple. It's an annual plant here in Canada and and in late August or early September, it forms prickly cucumber-like fruits, which are really a type of berry. I was at a different park yesterday and saw one with the fruit on it, so I was able to take this picture. What an odd-looking little fruit!
Apparently the roots were historically used in teas for stomach or kidney problems, and even love potions! No, I'm not planning on trying that! The little "cucumber" is more like a fleshy seed pod with hollow middle tubes that contain the seeds. It will eventually dry up and the seeds fall out the bottom of the pod. They're not edible, and not related to the garden cucumber plant either. Still, they are interesting!