Read CHAPTER I - INTRODUCTORY REMARKS of Theory and Practice‚ Applied to the Cultivation of the Cucumber, free online book, by Thomas Moore, on

The Cucumber, Cucumis sativa, is supposed to be a native of the East Indies; but like many other of our culinary plants, the real stations which it naturally has occupied, are involved in obscurity: in habit it is a trailing herb, with thick fleshy stems, broadly palmate leaves, and yellow axillary monaecious flowers. In the natural arrangement of the vegetable kingdom, the genus of which it forms part, ranks in the first grand class, Vasculares, or those plants which are furnished with vessels, and woody fibre; in the sub-class Calyciflorae, or those in which the stamens are perigynous; and in the order Cucurbitaceae, or that group, of which the genus Cucurbita, or Gourd family is the type.

The affinities of this order, are chiefly with Loasaceae, and Onagraceae; with the former it agrees in its inferior unilocular fruit, having a parietal placentae, and with the latter, in its definite perigynous stamens, single style, and exalbuminous seeds. It has also some affinity with Passifloraceae, and Papayaceae, in the nature of the fruit, and with Aristolochiaceae, in its twining habit, and inferior ovarium. M. Auguste St. Hiliare, also regards it as being related to Campanulaceae, in the perigynous insertion of the stamens, the single style with several stigmas, the inferior ovarium, and in the quinary division of the floral envelope, in connection with the ternary division of the fruit.

The properties of the plants comprised in this natural family, are not numerous; a bitter laxative quality pervades many of them, a familiar example of which is the resinous substance called Colycinthine, the production of the Colocynth gourd, in which the active purgative principle is concentrated, rendering it drastic, and irritating. Among our native plants the roots of Bryonia dioica, in common with the perennial roots of all the plants in the order, possess these purgative properties. On the other hand, the seeds are sweet, yielding an abundant supply of oil; and it may be worthy of remark, that they never partake of the properties of the pulp with which they are surrounded in the fruit.

The Cucumber does not possess the properties common to the order, in very powerful degree; its fruit is however too cold for many persons, causing flatulency, diarrhoea, and even cholera; by others, it may be eaten with avidity, without producing any injurious effects.

The names by which the Cucumber is recognised by the Hindoos, are Ketimon, and Timou. In the French, it is called Concombre; in the German, Gurke; and in the Italian, Citriuolo. As a cultivated plant, it is of nearly equal antiquity with the Vine; being mentioned by the writer of the Pentateuch, as being cultivated extensively in Egypt, above 3000 years since.

The cultivation of this plant, and the production of fine fruit at an early season, is an object of emulation among gardeners of the present day; and from this cause, many important improvements in the mode of its cultivation have been effected. The vast increase of means, arising from an acquaintance with powerful agents, formerly unknown, which are available by the present and rising races of gardeners, enable them to secure the same important results which cost their predecessors much both of labour and anxiety, with a comparatively small amount of the former, and a degree of certainty at which they could never arrive. The agents which an enlightened age has brought under controul, are indeed powerful engines, which require much skill in their adaptation and management; but the knowledge necessary to effect this, is so firmly and inseparably connected with the first principles of cultivation, that an acquaintance with these, will at all times supply a safe and unerring guide to their application.

It is to assist the young gardener in this application of principles, to the growth of the Cucumber in the winter season, that these pages are designed; and of those who may differ from the opinions which are here expressed, it is only required that they should receive a calm and deliberate consideration a consideration unbiassed by prejudice, and unmixed with any of that feverish excitement after novelties, which with gardeners, as well as with all other classes of society, is becoming far too prevalent, and intense.