Gardening Vegetables

Can I Grow English Cucumbers from Store-Bought Fruit?

English cucumbers contain no viable seeds. Photo: producegeek.com

Question: Do store-bought (English) cucumbers produce seeds that are viable for planting? Can I harvest them, clean them, dry them, then sow them? I tried and they were very hard to extract; plus the seeds appear to be about the size of an atom. How do you handle them? Last but not least, will they grow and will they produce cucumbers? If all are female, how do they pollinate?

Georges

Answer: The fast and easy answer to all of your questions but the last one is simply “no.” 

Sliced cucumbers on plate, immature seeds are visible inside.
Even the seeds of regular cucumbers aren’t viable: they’re too immature. Photo: thespruceeats.com

The seeds are not viable, so you can’t sow them. In fact, the seeds of store-bought cucumbers of any kind, even the stockier, shorter regular cucumbers (slicing cucumbers), with larger, more readily extractable seeds, will never be viable, because we eat cucumbers when they’re immature and supermarkets and stores only sell ones that are in an edible state.

Orange-skinned mature cucumbers in a sink.
Overripe cucumbers hide viable seeds. Photo: lehighvalleylive.com

Cucumbers turn big, yellow, brown or orange and insanely bitter at maturity and are generally considered no long edible at that point. If you grow regular cucumbers in your garden, you could easily allow a cucumber or two to mature on the vine if you want to produce your own cucumber seeds, harvesting them and drying them at the end of the season. But store-bought cucumbers will always be green and immature at purchase, because they’re sold when they’re ready to eat… and they’re ready to eat when they’re immature.

Secondly, English cucumbers (also called Dutch, hothouse or greenhouse cucumbers), those long, narrow cucumbers you see wrapped in plastic in supermarkets, the ones with thin skins you don’t have to peel, are considered seedless. There is simply no seed to harvest! The tiny little dots in the center of the fruit you noted are not seeds, but simply embryos that were never pollinated. They can’t sprout even if you did let the fruit grow to maturity or even beyond. 

Greenhouse with many dangling English cucumbers
English cucumbers produce fruits without being pollinated. Photo: Noal Farm

This kind of cucumber is parthenocarpic, that is to say it produces fruit without having been fecundated (that’s why its seeds never fully develop). Moreover, it produces only female flowers, eliminating the risk of accidental self-pollination. As a result, English cucumbers are almost always grown commercially inside a greenhouse. This prevents any insects from fecundating them using pollen from male flowers from a regular cucumber nearby, as that would result in misshapen, seedy fruit.

You can’t produce English cucumber seeds at home. They’re raised under glass by carefully crossing inbred lines. (Growers can chemically fiddle with even parthenocarpic plants to force them to produce male flowers with viable pollen, allowing such crosses to be made). The extra manipulation means English cucumber seeds are considerably more expensive than standard cucumber seeds … either that, or there will be fewer seeds in the packet you buy.

Bananas Too!

Bananas sliced on tray with knife showing tiny embryos inside; cut-open wild banana with large seeds inside.
Those little black dots seen inside a banana are unpollinated embryos. Wild bananas (here, Musa balbisiana), though, are filled with large, hard seeds. Photos: The Spruce & seedvendor.com

Cucumbers aren’t the only parthenocarpic plants that produce fruit. Bananas have been doing so for thousands of years. Those minuscule black dots inside the banana are just tiny unpollinated embryos. If ever a banana were pollinated (unlikely for genetic reasons), the giant, hard seeds that form would take up so much space there would be little flesh in the fruit to eat.

Bananas make life simpler for growers than cucumbers, though. They’re perennials and reproduce through offsets (pups); there is no need to restart them annually from seed.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

5 comments on “Can I Grow English Cucumbers from Store-Bought Fruit?

  1. Although because bananas are seedless we are now in a race against time trying to produce a bananna that is resistant to the pathogen that is decimating the cavendish around the world. One of the problems with cloning.

  2. Have bananas been cultivated without pollinators for thousands of years, or have they just always done this naturally (probably longer than thousands of years)?

    • There are known parthenocarpic bananas dating back to 10,000 to 6,500 BC, according to Wikipedia. They are naturally occurring hybrids adopted by humans. And when humans began moving banana species to new areas, new sterile hybrids occurred, plus mutations on those, and that includies the ones we grow today. Until researchers started working on bananas in laboratories using embryo rescue, I would guess human beings only hand in developing bananas would have been in selection. The crosses would always have been Mother Nature.

      • That is cool! It is probably why bananas have not changes much in modern history. It is not easy to breed something that does not . . . breed, and there are only a limited number of pairs to hybridize.

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