Cucumis maderaspatanus: Madras pea pumpkin

Family: Cucurbitaceae
Common name: Madras pea pumpkin, Rough bryony, Mukkapiri, Bristly bryony, Mukia maderaspatana

Madras pea pumpkins are trailing or climbing plants that are seen commonly in the wild, though it also has many medicinal properties. These plants can grow to a length of 4 meters climbing on surrounding vegetation through tendrils.

Stem is succulent and green, covered with thin, white hairs making the plant look prickly and rough. Leaves are heart-shaped or roughly triangular, about 10 cms in diameter. They are mostly lobed with rough margins, the central lobe being the largest, with two smaller lateral lobes. Leaves are rough and succulent, covered with thin hairs.

A very interesting feature of this plant is that the flowers grow from leaf axils placed right above the leaf. Thus the fruits are also placed right above the leaves, in small clusters. Flowers are small, yellow about 1-3mm long.

Madras pea pumpkins are called so, because of their small, rounded berries that are initially green, later turning deep red. Young fruits are covered with thin hairs and clustered at leaf axils, about 3-5 in a cluster.

Ripe berries sometimes have watermelon-like markings on them till they ripen into a hairless, bright red fruits. Seeds are about 3mm long. Though the ripe berries look beautiful, they are poisonous to humans and animals alike. Most cattle stay away from this plant, though the leaves are edible.

Madras pea pumpkins are mostly found in tropical countries, growing and spreading very quickly in the wild. They are annual plants that wither and die after producing fruits, new plants growing from seeds that lie dormant in the ground till favorable conditions arise.

These plants have many medicinal uses in traditional herbal and Ayurvedic medicine. They are used in treatment of cuts, wounds, inflammation, scabies, worm infections, headache, tooth pain, vertigo, stomach ailments, cough, fever, chest infections, sinusitis, body pain, diabetes, cholesterol and more. The leaves are eaten as vegetables after cooking, and sometimes added into chutneys.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.