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MOMORDICA charantia

Image of Momordica charantia

James H. Schutte

Family

Cucurbitaceae

Botanical Name

MOMORDICA charantia

Plant Common Name

Bittercucumber, Bittergourd, Bittermelon

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

A tropical perennial vine that may be grown as a summer annual, bittermelon offers showy foliage and cautiously edible melon-like fruits with warty skin. Numerous therapeutic and medicinal compounds exist in the plant tissues. The fruits are harvested when green and cooked, but still have a bitter taste. If left to fully ripen on the vine, the fruits turn golden orange and split open to reveal red-coated black seeds. Birds relish the fruits and spread the seeds around the landscape in their droppings. This vine, also known as balsam-apple, is native to southeastern Asia, but now naturalized across the tropical and warm-temperate world.

The attractive leaves look like a cross between maple and grape leaves. They are light to medium green and are deeply lobed. Tiny hairs cover the foliage, too. Crush leaves or snap the vine stem and a musky scent is apparent. During the warm months, light yellow flowers appear, attracting bees for pollination. Female blossoms then become the elongated fruits, which have numerous warty bumps. The fruit is swollen in the center with a pointed tip, like a Christmas ornament.

Grow bittermelon in full sun to partial shade in a moist, but well-drained fertile soil. Do not overwater during the growing season. While an evergreen in tropical climes, prolonged drought or frost kills the plant. In temperate regions, sow seeds each year after the danger of frost passes in spring. Remove volunteer seedlings from the garden, as the plants will clamber over fences and other shrubs and vegetables in an effort to receive sunlight.

Various compounds in the fruit and foliage make bittermelon a common traditional medicine in southern Asia. Diabetes and now HIV is treated with bittermelon. Only consume immature, green fruits (prepared much like cooked zucchini) or only the red seed coats (arils). Make sure to spit out the black seeds before eating the arils. Smaller fruits have a milder taste. Once fruits turn golden, the chemical compounds reach very high levels - becoming toxic - and taste extremely bitter

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 5

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 15

  • Plant Type

    Vine/Liana

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    8'-15' / 2.4m - 4.6m

  • Bloom Time

    Indeterminate

  • Native To

    Southern Asia, Southeastern Asia, India, China

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Very Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Vining/Climbing

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Light Yellow

  • Fruit Color

    Orange, Gold

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green, Yellow Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    Yes

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    Yes

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    Yes

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Bold

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Edible, Herb / Vegetable, Tropical, Vine

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    Sometimes

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes