gourd (gôrd, gŏrd) [key], common name for some members of the Cucurbitaceae, a family of plants whose range includes all tropical and subtropical areas and extends into the temperate zones. Almost all members of the family are annual herbs that grow as climbing or prostrate vines with spirally coiled tendrils. The characteristic large and fleshy fruit of many genera is often called a pepo; several genera have dry fruits, some with a single seed. The family is known for its many edible and otherwise useful plants. The name gourd is applied to those whose fruits have hard, durable shells used for ornament and as utensils, e.g., drinking cups, dippers, and bowls. The Old World genus Lagenaria includes the calabash, dipper, and bottle gourds. Luffa cylindrica is the loofah, dishcloth gourd, or vegetable sponge; when the edible fruit—called California okra in the S United States—is bleached dry, the inner fibrous network is used as a filter or a scrubbing sponge. Among the many other gourds are the serpent, or snake, gourd ( Trichosanthes anguina ) of Indomalaysia, whose slender fruit reaches 6 ft (1.8 m) in length. Many of the edible members of the family have been cultivated for so long—often since prehistoric times—that a single species may include several quite different varieties. Cucurbita includes the pumpkin, the vegetable marrow, and the summer squashes (all varieties of C. pepo ); the winter squashes (varieties of C. maxima ); and the crooknecks and the cheese pumpkin (varieties of C. moschata ). Cucumis (see melon) includes the cucumbers ( C. sativus ) and the gherkins ( C. anguria ); C. melo includes all melons except the watermelon, which, together with the citron, or preserving, melon, is Citrullis vulgaris. Of the few members of the family indigenous to the United States, the colocynth, or bitter-apple ( Citrullis colocynthis ), yields a powerful laxative from the dried pulp, and the wild balsam apple, or prickly cucumber ( Echinocystis lobata ), characteristically explodes when ripe, shooting out its seeds—as does the Mediterranean squirting cucumber ( Ecballium elaterium ). Bryony (two species of Bryonia ), cultivated in Central Europe as a cover vine, has long been valued locally for the medicinal properties of its roots. The African genus Dendrosicyos is a unique member of the family in that it grows as a small, bushy tree. Gourds are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Violales, family Cucurbitaceae.
See L. H. Bailey, The Garden of Gourds (1937); U.S. Dept. of Agriculture publications on melons and squash.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.