This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Small, greenish-white, 5-parted, of 2 kinds: staminate ones in a loose raceme on a very long peduncle; fertile ones clustered in a little head on a short peduncle. Stem: A climbing vine with branched tendrils; more or less sticky-hairy. Leaves: Broad, 5-angled or 5-lobed, heart-shaped at base, rough, sometimes enormous, on stout petioles. Fruit: From 3 to 10 bur-like, yellowish, prickly seed-vessels in a star-shaped cluster, each containing one seed.
Preferred Habitat - Moist, shady waste ground; banks of streams.
Flowering Season - June - September.
Distribution - Quebec to the Gulf States, and westward beyond the Mississippi.
In a damp, shady, waste corner, perhaps the first weed to take possession is the star cucumber, a poor relation of the musk and water melons, the squash, cucumber, pumpkin, and gourd of the garden. Its sole use yet discovered is to screen ugly fences and rubbish heaps by climbing and trailing luxuriantly over everything within reach. That it thinks more highly of its own importance in the world than men do of it, is shown by the precaution it takes to insure a continuance of its species. By separating the sexes of its flowers, like Quakers at meeting, it prevents self-fertilization, and compels its small-winged visitors to carry the smooth-banded, rough pollen from the staminate to the tiny pistillate group. By roughening its angled stem and leaves, it discourages pilfering ants and other crawlers from reaching the sweets reserved for legitimate benefactors. So extremely sensitive are the tips of the tendrils that by rubbing them with the finger they will coil up perceptibly; then straighten out again if they find they have been deceived, and that there is no stick for them to twine around. Give them a stick, however, and the coils remain fixed.