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 - Greenish yellow, on fine, curving footstalks, in a loose cluster above a circle of leaves. Perianth of 6 wide-spread divisions about % in. long; 6 reddish-brown stamens; 3 long reddish-brown styles, stigmatic on inner side. Stem: 1 to 2 1/2 ft. high, unbranched, cottony when young. Leaves: Of flowering plants, in 2 whorls; lower whorl of 5 to 9 large, thin, oblong, taper-pointed leaves above the middle of stem; upper whorl of 3 to 5 small, oval, pointed leaves 1 to 2 in. long, immediately under flowers. Flowerless plants with a whorl at summit. Fruit: Round, dark-purple berries.
Preferred Habitat - Moist woods and thickets.
Flowering Season - -May - June.
Distribution - Nova Scotia and Minnesota, southward nearly to the Gulf of Mexico.
Again we see the leaves of a plant coming to the aid of otherwise inconspicuous flowers to render them more attractive. By placing themselves in a circle just below these little spidery blossoms of weak and uncertain coloring, some of the Indian cucumber's leaves certainly make them at least noticeable, if not showy. It would be short-sighted philanthropy on the leaves' part to help the flowers win insect wooers at the expense of the plant's general health; therefore those in the upper whorl are fewer and much smaller than the leaves in the lower circle, and a sufficient length of stem separates them to allow the sunlight and rain to conjure with the chlorophyll in the group below. While there is a chance of nectar being pilfered from the flowers by ants, the stem is cottony and ensnares their feet. In September, when small clusters of dark-purple berries replace the flowers, and rich tints dye the leaves, the plant is truly beautiful - of course to invite migrating birds to disperse its seeds. It is said the Indians used to eat the horizontal, white, fleshy rootstock, which has a flavor like a cucumber's.