If you think cucumbers are just long, green vegetables with a bland, watery taste, then you’ve been missing out.
Long or round, green, yellow and even white, seedless and sweet – there’s never a dull moment when it comes to exploring this exciting plant.
In this guide, we’ll be taking a close look at the many cucumber varieties that you can grow in your garden.
How to identify cucumber plant varieties
In cultivation, there are two primary varieties of cucumbers:
- Pickling cucumbers: short, thick, with the skin covered in pointy bumps, used for pickling;
- Slicing cucumbers: long, thin, smooth-skinned and with very few seeds, typically used for slicing;
On top of these two main types, you will also find varieties of cucumber that have been developed to be easier to digest, varieties that produce mostly female flowers, and some that are low maintenance and don’t require trellises.
In general, cucumber plants tend to look the same. They produce creeping or climbing vines, with large, pointy, triangle-shaped leaves and yellow flowers separated by male and female. The fruit, on the other hand, can come in numerous shapes, sizes, and colors.
When you’re buying cucumber plants or seeds, you will often come across terms such as ‘pickling cucumbers,’ ‘burpless,’ ‘bushy,’ ‘self-pollinating,’ or ‘parthenocarpic.’
But what do these mean?
And what do they tell you about the plants you’re going to grow in your garden?
Let’s shed some light on the matter by taking a closer look at the most common cucumber plant varieties and how to identify them.
- Slicing cucumbers
- Pickling cucumbers
- Burpless cucumbers
- Bush cucumbers
- Parthenocarpic cucumbers
- Self-pollinating cucumbers
- Round cucumbers
- Yellow and white cucumbers
1. Slicing cucumbers
As the name implies, slicing cucumbers were designed for slicing and are usually eaten fresh. The fruit is cylindrical, with smooth skin, typically growing as long as 6 or 8 inches (15 to 20 cm).
The flesh is pale green, with small, edible seeds and a crisp texture. Some slicing cucumbers can have small, pointy bumps, but they are nowhere near as spiky as pickling cucumbers. The easiest way to tell them apart is by their looks: regardless of whether they have smooth or bumpy skin, slicing cucumbers should be uniform in shape and color.
Their taste is mild, fresh, and watery, with a faint sweetness. Slicing cucumbers are picked before the fruit is ripe and are consumed raw, usually in salads or as garnishes. As the fruit matures, the skin becomes tough and yellow, and the taste acquires an unpalatable bitterness.
Varieties to look for
Slicing cucumbers are the most popular variety in North America, Australia, and parts of Europe and are an everyday staple in most shops and markets. The English cucumber is one of the best-known types for smooth skin varieties, along with the Persian cucumber, and cultivars such as Diva, Sweet Slice, and Marketer. Popular bumpy varieties include Early Pride, Marketmore 76, and Ashley.
2. Pickling cucumbers
Technically speaking, any type of cucumber can be pickled. However, not all will result in tasty, crunchy pickles. This is why some varieties have been specifically developed and grown for the task.
Pickling cucumbers usually produce smaller fruit, with a bumpy skin sometimes covered in small spines and an irregular, bendy shape. They can be either dark or light green, creamy yellow, or even lightly striped. Some mini cucumber varieties, such as Cornichons, can grow as small as 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, although most pickling cucumbers are about 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10) in length.
Given that they’re meant to be preserved in vinegar or brine, pickling cucumbers have a lower water content than slicing ones. They also have thicker skin and a mild vegetable bitterness. The fruit is also ready to be harvested sooner than in slicing cucumbers, and the plants take up less space to grow. Therefore, they’re a perfect choice for container cultivation.
Varieties to look for
Despite their name, pickling cucumbers are very versatile, and some cultivars can also be peeled and used as slicing cucumbers. You can also use Oriental cucumber varieties in your pickles, especially the round, miniature ones.
Among the Western cultivars, some of the most popular ones are Carolina, Bush Pickle, Early Russian, Saladin, National Pickling, and any variety sold as ‘Kirby cucumber.’
3. Burpless cucumbers
A relatively recent variety, these cucumbers were developed to produce lower levels of cucurbitacin. This is a compound found in many vegetables belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, and it causes bitterness in the fruit and burping. As a result, these varieties are called ‘burpless cucumbers,’ and they have been developed to be nearly seedless, with thinner skin, and easier to digest.
Burpless cucumbers come in all shapes and sizes, so there isn’t a template for what they should look like. The thin skin is their key feature, but they can be long or medium-sized, smooth-skinned, or bumpy.
In general, your seed packet should mention whether the variety you are buying is burpless or not. Most of the smooth-skinned cucumbers you will find in supermarkets, usually wrapped in plastic, are burpless varieties.
Varieties to look for
Suppose you want to grow burpless cucumbers in your garden. In that case, some varieties to keep an eye out for are Muncher, Early Pride, Garden Sweet, Burpless 26, and Armenian cucumber varieties. English cucumbers may look it, but they are not burpless, even though they have smooth, thin skin.
4. Bush cucumbers
The vast majority of cucumber varieties are vining and will need a trellis or some other form of support for proper growth and fruit development. Luckily, you can now also find bushing cucumbers perfect for container growth or in raised garden beds.
These dwarf cucumbers grow to less than one foot (30 cm) in height and about 2 feet (60 cm) wide, usually trailing on the ground. They are more contained, but on the flip side, they also produce smaller, fewer fruits and might need extra care when it comes to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.
Bush cucumbers produce fruit that’s usually between 6 and 8 inches (15 to 20 cm). Depending on the variety, they can be used for either slicing or pickling and can have smooth or bumpy skin. The easiest way to tell them apart from vining cucumbers is the small size of the plants and their compact shape.
Varieties to look for
Some of the most popular bush cucumber varieties are Bush Pickle and Pick a Bushel (both perfect for – you guessed it – pickling), Salad Bush (great for slicing), Bush Champion (for longer fruit), Fanfare, Bush Whopper, Potluck, and Spacemaster (the ultimate space-saver, which can also be grown in hanging baskets).
5. Parthenocarpic cucumbers
Most cucumbers are monoecious, producing separate male and female flowers and requiring pollination to produce fruit. The downside to this is that the vast majority of cucumbers are not self-compatible, which means that they will need the pollen of another cucumber plant to develop fruit.
This is where parthenocarpic cucumber varieties come into play. These types do not require pollination and are ideal for indoor growth or in places where pollination may be an issue.
They can produce both male and female flowers, but in cultivation, the most desirable varieties are the ones that are gynoecious (producing female flowers only). To tell the difference between male and female flowers, look at the stems: the female cucumber flowers have a small lump under the petals, which later develops into a fully grown fruit.
The easiest way to identify parthenocarpic cucumbers is the lack of seeds in the fruit. This lack of seeds is a sign that female-only flowers produce them. If pollination occurs, the fruiting body will start developing seeds. Parthenocarpic cucumbers produce juicy, succulent fruits, but they are also higher maintenance and will typically require a support system to climb on to.
Varieties to look for
Since cucumbers are a hot season crop, they are commonly grown in greenhouses, and as a result, many of the commercially available cucumber seeds belong to parthenocarpic varieties.
English and Persian cucumbers are some of the best examples. Most burpless cucumbers are also parthenocarpic. Other popular types include Beith Alpha, Diva, County Fair 83, and Asian cultivars such as Suyo Long.
6. Self-pollinating cucumbers
By default, cucumbers, and the vast majority of plants in the Cucurbitaceae family, produce separate male and female flowers. To set fruit, the pollen needs to be transferred from the male flowers onto the female ones.
Things become a bit complicated with cucumbers in particular due to the sheer number of hybrids. These varieties produce female-only flowers (gynoecious cucumbers), and the fact that many types are not self-compatible and require pollen from a separate cucumber plant.
As a result, many varieties of cucumbers are now being bred to be self-pollinating. Unlike parthenocarpic cucumbers (that do not require pollination), the self-pollinating cucumber varieties can use the pollen from the male flower on the female flower’s pistil belonging to the same plant. This makes pollination much easier and also increases the chances of one cucumber plant producing fruit later on. The main difference between the fruit of self-pollinating cucumbers vs. parthenocarpic ones is that the former produce seeds.
Self-pollinating cucumbers are ideal for growing in enclosed spaces, such as greenhouses, or container-grown in apartments. However, just because these varieties are self-pollinating doesn’t mean that they do all the work themselves.
Usually, providing proper air circulation around the plants will ensure that the pollen is transferred from the male to the female flowers. But if there is no airflow, manual pollination might still be necessary for the best results.
Varieties to look for
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the way the fruit of self-pollinating cucumbers looks like. This trait can be applicable across many varieties and hybrids, so always check the information on your seed packet to see whether the type you’re growing is self-pollinating or not.
Some varieties to keep an eye out for include Diva, County Fair, Carmen, Rocky, Tyria, Sweet Success, and Asian cucumbers such as Tasty Jade.
7. Round cucumbers
Round cucumber varieties are common among Asian cultivars, but they are also found among Western hybrids. Their shape is unique, and from the outside, they often resemble miniature gourds or watermelons.
Round cucumbers can drastically vary in color and can be anything from pale yellow and orange to bright green. Some have smooth skin, while others have small spikes. Their shape can be round or slightly oblong, and they can grow anywhere between 1 and 4 inches (3 to 10 cm) in length.
Their flesh is typically white or light green, with well-developed seeds in the middle. Round cucumbers have a more flavorful taste than the other varieties, often with a citrusy sweetness and tang and very little bitterness. The best way to enjoy them is to eat them raw, although they can also be pickled.
Varieties to look for
If you want to grow round cucumbers in your garden, some of the ones we recommend are Crystal Lemon and Crystal Apple, Maroon cucumber, or Asian varieties such as Dosakaya. It’s best to note that some cultivars sold as round cucumbers, such as Watermelon Gherkin and Mandurian Round, are closely related to melons rather than cucumbers.
8. Yellow and white cucumbers
So how are yellow and white cucumber varieties different from the regular ones? These cucumbers can come in any hue, from white and cream to vivid yellow and orange. Some can even be variegated, with dark stripes running along the skin.
The fruit can be round or oblong and range from tennis ball-sized to that of a small squash. Their taste is just as varied, with some types tasting just like regular green cucumbers, while others have a distinct fruitiness. In general, it’s best to harvest them when young, as they can develop a noticeable sourness or bitterness the more time they spend on the vine.
Varieties to look for
White and yellow cucumbers are common among Asian varieties, although hybrids have been developed in recent years, even for traditionally green types. One such example is the Itachi cucumber, which looks just like a long, regular cucumber, except that its skin is almost pure white.
Want to add a touch of color to your garden? In that case, some of the varieties we recommend are:
- White cucumbers: Itachi, Snow White, Miniature White (fruit is only 3 inch/8 cm long), Pepino Blanco, White Star, Blonde Cucumber (can be either white or yellow);
- Yellow cucumbers: Lemon Cucumber, Apple Cucumber, Chinese Yellow, Dosakaya, Poona Kheera;
Cucumber varieties list
Now that you know how to identify the different cucumber plants let’s take a better look at some specific varieties that you can grow in your garden. From the classic European cucumbers to the exotic Asian varieties, there are plenty of types of cucumbers to choose from.
Here are just some of our picks:
- English cucumber
- Gherkins and Cornichons
- Armenian cucumber
- Lebanese cucumber
- Persian cucumber
- Beit Alpha cucumbers
- Japanese cucumber
- Korean cucumber
- Suyo Long cucumber
- Malabar cucumber
- Poona Kheera cucumber
- Dosakaya cucumber
- Lemon cucumber
- Apple cucumber
1. English cucumber
Possibly the best-known slicing cucumber variety, the English cucumber produces long, slender fruit, with a smooth, dark green skin, usually between 10 and 12 inches long (25 to 30 cm). Their taste is mild and neutral, and they are best eaten raw, without the need to peel the skin. A vining variety will require trellises for optimal fruit development.
2. Gherkins and Cornichons
If you’re looking for pickling cucumbers, then gherkins and cornichons are your best bet. Gherkins have become synonymous with pickled cucumbers due to their wide use.
Gherkins and cornichons produce small fruit (cornichons are typically around 2 inches (5 cm) long), covered in many small, spiny bumps. Crunchy, juicy and mildly tart, they can be eaten raw but are best suited for preserving in vinegar or brine.
3. Armenian cucumber
4. Lebanese cucumber
A smooth-skinned, burpless variety, Lebanese cucumbers produce small fruit (about 6 inches(15 cm) long), famous for their crunchy texture and sweet taste. Lebanese cucumbers are usually seedless or have very few underdeveloped seeds.
They can be eaten raw, with the skin on. Like the English variety, Lebanese cucumbers love climbing and will often grow vines almost 8 feet (2.4 meters) long. As a result, they are best grown on trellises.
5. Persian cucumber
At first glance, Persian cucumbers look very similar to English cucumbers. They have slender, dark green fruit with smooth skin and very few seeds.
However, Persian cucumbers are much smaller and rarely grow longer than 6 inches (15 cm).
Their taste is mild and sweet, and they are perfect for slicing and eating raw. Persian cucumbers do not require pollination to produce fruit, and they are also burpless.
6. Beit Alpha cucumbers
Developed in the Middle East, Beit Alpha cucumbers are a variety grown for their thin skin, crunchy texture, and mild sweetness. The fruit is typically 5 or 6 inches long (13 to 15 cm), dark green, and with shallow furrows along the skin.
Beit Alpha cucumbers are the perfect choice for greenhouse cultivation. They are parthenocarpic, which means that they don’t need pollination, as well as burpless.
7. Japanese cucumber
Japanese cucumbers are very similar in appearance to English cucumbers, producing long, slender fruit with dark green skin, sometimes bumpy, but typically smooth. What sets them apart is a distinct lack of bitterness, as well as the fact that they are often seedless.
They are perfect for either pickling or slicing and are also burpless. Japanese cucumbers can be very versatile and are easy to grow in both greenhouses and your garden.
8. Korean cucumber
Like the Japanese cucumbers, the Korean varieties produce much larger fruit, often as long as 18 inches (45 cm). Their skin is covered in small bumps and can vary in color from dark green to almost white. The fruit is crunchy, with very little bitterness, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Easy to grow and to produce a high yield, they are an excellent choice for your Asian vegetable garden.
9. Suyo Long cucumber
10. Malabar cucumber
Also known as Madras or Mangalore cucumbers, they are prevalent in India. Malabar cucumber is closer related to melons and often has a more aromatic, almost floral taste.
The fruit is thicker than other Asian cucumbers, usually up to 8 inches (20 cm) long, with smooth, dark green skin and yellow stripes. Best enjoyed when cooked, especially in stir-fries, curries and sambar.
11. Poona Kheera cucumber
Unlike other cucumber varieties, Poona Kheera can be used at all stages of maturity. They can be eaten raw when young or cooked into stir-fries, curries, and even pickles as they ripen.
12. Dosakaya cucumber
An Indian variety of cucumber that produces round fruit, often with a slightly oblong shape. Dosakaya cucumbers start as light green, then gradually become yellow or golden as they ripen.
Their skin is thick but edible, and the fruit has a mild tartness when young, developing a sweet tang as it ripens. Perfect in salads, as well as stir-fries, korma, stuffing, pickling, and using in chutneys.
13. Lemon cucumber
Despite their name, Lemon cucumbers taste similar to regular melons, but they have a sweeter taste and a crunchy texture. Easy to grow, especially in containers, they can either be eaten raw or used in pickling.
14. Apple cucumber
So there you have it – cucumbers are amazingly versatile, come in kinds of different shapes, sizes, and colors, not to mention flavors.
Once you realize just how many types of cucumbers there are, it’s exciting to see which ones you like best. Of course, the best way to do this is to grow your cucumbers at home!