Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana)

Indian cucumber root flower

Top facts

  • The roots of the Indian cucumber root are said to taste like cucumber and are eaten by Native Americans.
  • The genus Medeola is thought to have been named after the mythical sorceress Medea, relating to the alleged medicinal properties of the plant.
  • The Indian cucumber root is a perennial plant, meaning it lives for over two years and only flowers once a year.
  • The fruit of the Indian cucumber root is a purplish-black berry.
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Indian cucumber root fact file

Indian cucumber root description

GenusMedeola (1)

The monotypic (3) Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) is a tall, herbaceous (4), perennial plant (3), which is named after the cucumber-like taste of its rhizomes (2) (5).

The Indian cucumber root has two whorls of leaves (2) (3) (5) (6). The lower whorl is positioned half-way up the stem (7) and has between 5 and 11 leaves (2) (3) (5) (6), which are described as being slightly lance shaped and somewhat oblong (5), tapering to a sharp point at each end (6). The upper whorl is at the top of the stem (7) and has three leaves (2) (3) (5), which are slightly smaller than those on the lower whorl and become red in the centre during autumn (2). The stems of the mature Indian cucumber root are unbranched (6) and hairy (3) (6), while younger stems are white and have a slightly woolly appearance (7).

The drooping (4) yellow or green-yellow flowers of the Indian cucumber root (2) (3) (4) (5) (7) are positioned below the upper leaf whorl (3) and may be slightly hidden by the leaves (4). There are usually between three and nine flowers per plant (3) (5) and each flower has three long, brown styles in the centre which curve outwards (3). The stamens of the Indian cucumber root are reddish (4) and the fruit is a dark purplish-black berry (2) (3) (5).

Height: 30 - 75 cm (2)

Indian cucumber root biology

There is very little information available on the biology of the Indian cucumber root, although it is known to flower between May and June (2) (4) (5), with fruiting taking place slightly later between late July and August (5). It is a perennial plant, therefore it lives for over two years and only produces flowers once a year (2). The Indian cucumber root is thought to mainly reproduce vegetatively by means of underground rhizomes, which produce roots and shoots without the need for pollination (3) (5).


Indian cucumber root range

The range of the Indian cucumber root encompasses most of the eastern United States, from Maine in the north to Alabama and Georgia in the south. The most westerly population of this species is found in Missouri (7) (8).


Indian cucumber root habitat

The Indian cucumber root is mostly found in moist woodland (2) (3) (5) (6) where the soil is rich (5) (6), such as hardwood and mixed conifer forests (5). Some populations may also be found in pine and oak woodland, although this occurrence is less frequent (2) (5).


Indian cucumber root status

The Indian cucumber root has not yet been assessed by the IUCN.


Indian cucumber root threats

There are not currently known to be any threats to the Indian cucumber root.


Indian cucumber root conservation

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the Indian cucumber root, although it is regarded as a State Special Concern Plant in Wisconsin (5).


Find out more

Find out more about the Indian cucumber root:

Find out more about plant conservation in North America:



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Describes a small, non-woody, seed bearing plant in which all the aerial parts die back at the end of each growing season.
A taxonomic group comprising only one member, such as a family with one genus or a genus with one species.
A plant that normally lives for more than two years. After an initial period, the plant usually produces flowers once a year.
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
An underground, horizontal plant stem that produces roots and shoots.
The male reproductive organ of a flower. Each stamen is comprised of an anther (the pollen-producing organ) and a filament (stalk).
An elongated part of the female reproductive organs of a flower that bears the stigma (the receptive area where pollen germinates), usually at its tip.
Vegetative reproduction
Type of asexual reproduction (reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells) in which a new plant grows from part of another plant, rather than from seeds or spores. The resulting individual is genetically identical to the original plant.
In plants, a set of leaves, flowers, or branches that spring from a stem at the same point and encircle it.


  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2014)
  2. Muskegon Community College - Indian cucumber root (February, 2014)
  3. Spira, T.P. (2011) Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  4. Primrose, M. and Munro, M. (2006) Wildflowers of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Formac Publishing Company Limited, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  5. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Indian cucumber root (February, 2014)
  6. University of Wisconsin - Indian cucumber root (February, 2014)
  7. Flora of North America - Medeola virginiana (February, 2014)
  8. United States Department of Agriculture - Medeola virginiana (February, 2014)

Image credit

Indian cucumber root flower  
Indian cucumber root flower

© Corey Raimond

Corey Raimond


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