display | more...
    Kingdom: Plantae
    Division: Magnoliophyta
    Class: Magnoliopsida
    Order: Cucurbitales
    Family: Cucurbitaceae
    Genus: Cucumis
    Species: C.humifructus

The aardvark cucumber (Cucumis humifructus) is the only known geocarpic species of cucumber, growing its fruit underground. Found throughout Eastern & Southern tropical Africa, the aardvark cucumber, as its name might suggest, lives in an unusual, symbiotic relationship with the aardvark: because the cucumber's tough, water-resistant rind and depth below ground (between 15-30 cm) makes it difficult for its seeds to germinate on their own, it relies instead on the aardvark for its continued survival; after digging up the buried fruit, the aardvark uses its sharp claws to tear apart the cucumber, allowing it to collect the moist pulp (and seeds) with its tongue. For the aardvark, the cucumber provides much needed hydration in the often arid environment, and, in return, the aardvark both frees, and subsequently, fertilizes the cucumber's seeds. Notably, this species of cucumber is the only fruit which the aardvark consumes.

In Afrikaans, the plant is known as "erdvarkkomkommer", which is said to be the source from which the English name derives. Its scientific name is credited to South African botanist Sydney Stent, who coined the name in 1927 in reference to the plant's underground fruit. It is sometimes referred to as the "aardvark pumpkin".

Physically, the cucumber is about the size of an orange, and is described as having a pale biscuit colour. The plant itself is annual, only growing for 3-4 months.


Sources

  1. "Aardvark and Cucumber A Remarkable Relationship" by Jeremy Hollmann & Susan Myburgh, Veld & Flora (December 1995)
  2. "Entry for CUCUMIS humifructus Stent <family CUCURBITACEAE>" by C. Jeffrey, Flora of Tropical East Africa (1967)
  3. "Information Needed About the Aardvark Cucumber (Cucumis humofructus)" by Jeremy Hollmann, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (July 1997)

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.