Gerald L. Klingaman
Plant Common Name
Evidence suggests bottle gourds were among the first plants domesticated by humans. As long as 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, humans were using bottle gourds as containers, musical instruments and fishing floats. It is believed that they were first cultivated in Africa, taken to Asia and finally into the Americas, possibly across ancient land bridges.
Bottle gourds, also known as calabash, grow on vigorous rambling annual vines that climb via tendrils. Their large leaves are coarse, hairy, medium green and variable in shape. They may be oval, egg, kidney or heart-shaped and slightly lobed or entire. Mature vines produce medium-sized, funnel-shaped flowers of white or ivory that open at night. They are monoecious, meaning single plants bear separate male and female flowers. Male flowers are generally produced first followed by the fruit-producing female flowers. Bottle gourds are most commonly moth pollinated.
The fruit is the main attraction. Bottle gourds are extremely variable. They may be round, cylindrical or flask-shaped, sometimes with bulbous distensions. The green skin may be smooth or hairy and matures to pale gold or brown. When fully mature they are very hard. At this point, they should be dried in a cool dry location until they develop a dry wooden texture.
Grow bottle gourds in the full sun and well-draining average soil. Once established, they are surprisingly drought tolerant but still perform best with regular water. In the hottest locations, some afternoon shade is appreciated. Plant the cold sensitive vines after the danger of frost has past. They take around 99 to 125 days from seed to harvest. In hot, rainy locations, harvest the fruit before the rainy season begins to avoid fruit and vine rot. Where drainage is poor, sow them in mounds of porous soil. The vines and fruit can become very large, so trellised specimens may need extra support.
Bottle gourds are fun to grow and have boundless uses. They are particularly fun for children and offer a great way teach a little history while crafting and gardening. Historically they have been used as water and wine bottles, life jackets, salt containers, bird houses and music pipes. There are health concerns related to their consumption. To learn more, please visit the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Poisonous Plant Database at: http://www.herbvideos.com/Poisos.htm.