Annual or perennial herb with short trailing shoots and monoecious or rarely dioecious sex system. The leaves are simple, petiolate, with cordate blade. Tendrils are absent. The male inflorescence is a raceme, the female flowers are produced solitary in the axils of the leaves. The receptacle-tube is short-campanulate with five linear-lanceolate sepals. The corolla is broadly campanulate or almost rotate with five yellow, ovate-oblong petals, acute at the apex. The three stamens are inserted near the center of the tube on short, free filaments. Two anthers are bithecous, one is monothecous. The thecae are reflexed and contain tricolporate, reticulate, medium-sized pollen (polar axis c. 67 µm, equatorial axis c. 38 µm (Khunwasi 1998)). The ovary is oblong, hispid with many, horizontal ovules and short style with three bilobed stigmata. The fruit is oblong, hispid, scabrous, and watery. When fully ripe, the fruit separates from the peduncle and contracts at the base, ejecting the seeds by elastic contraction. The many seeds are oblong, compressed, with pale yellow to brown testa. The chromosome number is 2n = 18 (Slavik et al. 1993).
The only species, E. elaterium, grows in fields and on disturbed ground throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa and Southwest Asia.
Phylogenetically, the genus Ecballium is sister to Bryonia, from which it split about 23 million years ago (Schaefer et al., 2009; Schaefer & Renner 2011).
Ecballium elaterium (L.) A. Rich., Dict. Class. Hist. Nat. 6: 19. 1824.
Dukas, R., 1987. Foraging behavior of three bee species in a natural mimicry system: Female flowers which mimic male flowers in Ecballium elaterium (Cucurbitaceae). Oecologia 74: 256-263.
Khunwasi, C. 1998. Palynology of the Cucurbitaceae. Doctoral Dissertation Naturwiss. Fak., University of Innsbruck.
Rust, R. W., Vaissière, B. E. and P. Westrich. 2003. Pollinator biodiversity and floral resource use in Ecballium elaterium (Cucurbitaceae), a Mediterranean endemic. Apidologie 34: 29-42.
Slavik, B., Jarolimova, V. and J. Chrtek. 1993. Chromosome counts of some plants from Cyprus. Candollea 48: 221–230.
Schaefer, H. and S.S. Renner. 2011. Phylogenetic relationships in the order Cucurbitales and a new classification of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). Taxon 60: 122-138.
Schaefer, H., Heibl, C., and S.S. Renner. 2009. Gourds afloat: a dated phylogeny reveals an Asian origin of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) and numerous oversea dispersal events. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276: 843-851.