Cucumis sativus Linn. Cucumber.
East Indies. The origin of the cucumber is usually ascribed to Asia and Egypt. Dr. Hooker believes the wild plants inhabit the Himalayas from Kumaun to Sikkim. It has been a plant of cultivation from the most remote times, but De Candolle finds no support for the common belief of its presence in ancient Egypt at the time of the Israelite migration into the wilderness, although its culture in western Asia is indicated from philological data as more than 3000 years old. The cucumber is said to have been brought into China from the west, 140-86 B. C.; it can be identified in a Chinese work on agriculture of the fifth century and is described by Chinese authors of 1590 and 1640. Cucumbers were known to the ancient Greeks and to the Romans, and Pliny even mentions their forced culture. They find mention in the Middle Ages and in the botanies from Ruellius, 1536, onward. The cucumber is believed to be the sikus hemeros of Dioscorides, and the sikuos of Theophrastus. Pliny says cucumbers were much grown in Africa as well as in Italy in his time, and that the Emperor Tiberius had cucumbers at his table every day in the year. We find reference to them in France in the ninth century, for Charlemagne ordered cucumbers to be planted on his estate. In Gough's British Topography, cucumbers are stated to have been common in England in the time of Edward III, 1327, but during the wars of the houses of York and Lancaster, their cultivation was neglected, the plant was lost, and they were reintroduced only in 1573. In 1629, Parkinson says "in many countries they use to eate coccumbers as wee doe apples or Peares," and they are thus eaten and relished at the present day in southern Russia and in Japan.
Cucumbers were grown by Columbus at Hayti in 1494. In 1535, Cartier mentions "very great cucumbers" cultivated by the Indians about Hochelaga, now Montreal. In 1539, De Soto found in Florida at Apalache "cucumbers better than those of Spain" and also at other villages, and, in 1562, Ribault mentions them as cultivated by the Florida Indians. According to Capt. John Smith, Captains Amidos and Barlow mention cucumbers in Virginia in 1584 and they are mentioned as being cultivated there in 1609. Cucumbers were among the Indian vegetables destroyed by General Sullivan in 1779 in the Indian fields about Kashong, near the present Geneva, N. Y. At the Bermudas, "cowcumbers" were planted in 1609. In Massachusetts, they are mentioned in 1629 by Rev. Francis Higginson; William Wood mentions them in his New England's Prospects, 1629-33. In Brazil, cucumbers were seen by Nieuhoff in 1647 and by Father Angelo in 1666.
There are a great number of varieties varying from the small gherkin to the mammoth English varieties which attain a length of twenty inches or more. The cultivated gherkin is a variety used exclusively for pickling and was in American gardens in 1806. At Unyanyembe, Central Africa, and other places where the cucumber grows almost wild, says Burton, the Arabs derive from its seed an admirable salad oil, which in flavor equals and perhaps surpasses the finest produce of the olive. Vilmorin in Les Plantes Potageres, 1883, describes 30 varieties. Most, if not all, of these as well as others including 59 different names have been grown on the grounds of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station. While some of the varieties grown differ but little, yet there are many kinds which are extraordinarily distinct.
Types of Cucumbers.
The types of our common cucumbers are fairly well figured in the ancient botanies, but the fruit is far inferior in appearance to those we grow today, being apparently more rugged and less symmetrical. The following synonymy is established from figures and descriptions:
- Cucumis sativus vulgaris. Fuch. 697. 1542.
- Cucumis sativus. Roeszl. 116. 1550; Cam. Epit. 294. 1586.
- Cucumis. Trag. 831. 1552; Fischer 1646.
- Cucumis vulgaris. Ger. 762, 1597; Chabr. 134. 1677.
- Concombre. Toum. t. 32. 1719.
- ?Short Green. Park. Par. 1629.
- ?Short Green Prickly. Mawe 1778; Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Early Green Cluster. Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Green Cluster. Thorb. 1828.
- Early Cluster of American seedsmen.
A second form, very near to the above, but longer, less rounding and more prickly has a synonymy as below:
- Cucumeres. Matth. 282. 1558.
- Cucumis sativus. Dalechamp 1:620. 1587.
- Cucumeres sativi and esculenti Lob. Icon. 1:638. 1591.
- Cucumis vulgaris Dod. 662. 1616.
- Cedruolo. Dur. C. 103. 1617.
- Cucumis vulgaris, viridis, and albis. Bauh. J. 2; 2 46. 1651.
- Long Green Prickly. Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Early Frame. Thorb. Cat. 1828 and 1886.
The third form is the smooth and medium-long cucumbers, which, while they have a diversity of size, yet have a common shape and smoothness. Such are:
- ? Cucumer sativus. Pin. 192. 1561.
- Concombre. Tourn. t. 32. 1719.
- ? Large Smooth Green Roman. Mawe, 1778; Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Long Smooth Green Turkey. Mawe 1778; Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Long Green Turkey. Thorb. Cat. 1828.
- Turkey Long Green or Long Green. Landreth. 1885.
- Greek, or Athenian. Vilm. 1885.
The fourth form includes those known as English, which are distinct in their excessive length, smoothness and freedom from seeds, although in a botanical classification they would be united with the preceding, from which, doubtless, they have originated. The synonymy for these would scarcely be justified had it not been observed that the tendency of the fruit is to curve under conditions of ordinary culture:
- Cucumis longus. Cam. Epit. 295. 1586.
- Cucumis longus eidem. Baugh. J. 2:2 48. 1651.
- Green Turkey Cucumber. Bryant 267. 1783.
- Long Green English varieties. Vilm. 163. 1883.
The Bonneuil Large White Cucumber, grown largely about Paris for the use of perfumes, is quite distinct from all other varieties, the fruit being ovoid, perceptibly flattened from end to end in three or four places, thus producing an angular appearance. We may suspect that Gerarde figured this type in his cucumber, which came from Spain into Germany, as his figure bears a striking resemblance in the form of the fruit and in the leaf:
- Cucumis ex Hispanico semine natus. Ger. 764. 1597.
- Cucumis sativus major. Bauh. Pin. 310. 1623. (excl. Fuch.)
- Bonneuil Large White. Vilm. 222. 1885.
- White Dutch. A. Blanc. No. 6133.
Another type of cucumbers is made up of those which have lately appeared under the name of Russian. Nothing is known of their history. They are very distinct and resemble a melon more than a cucumber, at least in external appearance:
- 1. The Early Russian, small, oval and smooth.
- 2. The Russian Gherkin, obovate and ribbed like a melon.
- 3. The Russian Netted, oval and densely covered with a fine net-work.
The appearance of new types indicates that we have by no means exhausted the possibilities of this species. The Turkie cucumber of Gerarde is not now to be recognized under culture; nor are the Cucumer minor pyriformis of Gerarde and of J. Bauhin and the Cucumis pyriformis of C. Bauhin, Phytopinax, 1596.
If the synonymy be closely examined, it will be noted that some of the figures represent cucumbers as highly improved as at the present day. The Cucumis longus of J. Bauhin is figured as if equalling our longest and best English forms; the concombre of Tournefort is also a highly improved form, as is also the cucumeres of Matthiolus, 1558.
Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World, 1919, was edited by U. P. Hedrick.