Ecballium elaterium: Squirting cucumber
Native to the Mediterranean, Ecballium elaterium, commonly known as the squirting cucumber or exploding cucumber, is not actually a cucumber that you would eat in a salad, but a vine.
However it is most noted for its prickly, oblong, unusual and distinctive, blue-green fruit pods which mature in the autumn in a form somewhat resembling a small 3-inch cucumber (hence the name). Each fruit pod contains many black seeds. The pods explode when ripe, squirting and distributing plant seeds in a sticky mucilaginous liquid to distances of 6-18 foot or more.
This small plant contains the poisonous compound cucurbitacins, which can be used a treatment for sinusitis in Mediterranean, however the undiluted juice of the squirting cucumber has been shown to cause inflammation and irritation of the airways and there are examples of its ingestion proving fatal – so make sure that you are careful not to be in the line of fire when it squirts!
It is monoecious, meaning that the flowers are either male or female, although both can appear on the same plant. Its yellow bell shaped flowers are insect pollinated although it can self-pollinate.
This plant can be found in the Systematic Beds.
Victoria Cruziana: Santa Cruz waterlily
Native to northern Argentina and Paraguay, this amazing water plant is named after Queen Victoria.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Victoria Cruziana is its reproduction strategy as it changes sex from female to male. When the flowers first open, they are white and female and in order to attract pollinators, they smell like pineapple. Scarab beetles, attracted to the sweet smell, climb inside the flowers, which close trapping the beetle inside. The following day, the flowers change to become male, and the beetle gets covered in pollen, the flower loses its smell, turns pink and opens up letting the beetle escape to go and visit other female Victoria flowers.
You can watch a lovely film about the Victoria Cruziana on our YouTube site, and another with one of our trainees talking about what it is link to look after these amazing plants. Find out about the plant on the Victoria Cruziana plant page. These plants are found in the Tropical Wetlands house of our Glasshouse Range – please note that in the winter, these plants are not visible, please visit in the early summer to see them.
Sequoiadendron giganteum, Giant Redwood
Cambridge University Botanic Garden has the first Giant Redwood grown anywhere in the world outside of its native range in California. It is about 170 years old.
This is a lovely example of how a botanic garden is a living laboratory – no one knows how tall the Redwood will get outside of its native range or how long it will live for. There are examples in California that are thousands of years old…will ours still be standing there in another millennium?
The Giant Redwood is listed as an endangered species by the IUCN.
We now have several Giant Redwoods in the Garden, as well as the original. Visit the Giant Redwood page in our tree collection to find out where they are, and more about them.
The fountain in the centre of the Botanic Garden is designed to look like Victoria Amazonica – a larger relative to Victoria Cruziana, with the vertical jets of water imitating the majestic shape of the Giant Redwood.