Dirt on Gardening

Fall is a time of year when gourds, the last of the summer garden bounty, are brought indoors and used for decoration or for arts and crafts. It seems as though the varieties of gourds are endless, so what are they?

All gourds are from the Cucurbitaceae family. Within that family are over 90 genera which are further divided into species. There are over 1,000 known species of gourds, and among particular species gourds may cross-breed and create even more hybrids.

Hardshell gourds are a member of the gourd genus Lagenaria, and within that genus there are only six species. Common hardshell gourd species are basket type, bottle type, dipper type and snake.

Common basket type gourds are the cannon ball and kettle gourds. The cannon ball can reach softball size, but the kettle gourd can reach 20 inches in diameter.

Bottle type gourds include the Mexican bottle and birdhouse gourds. These gourds may have a bulb in the neck or a “waist” to separate two gourd bulbs.

The dipper type gourds have a bulb at the blossom end of the gourd and long, thin neck that extends to the stem. Some dipper gourds have long or short handles. They are also referred to as “clubs” due to the baseball bat type shape they sometimes replicate.

Snake gourds are long without a distinct bulb. They may range from a few inches in length – like a banana – to over four feet long.

Ornamental gourds are a separate genus, also with many different species. Ornamental gourds can be found gracing farmer’s markets and grocery stores this time of year; they are specifically used for fall decorations. Pumpkins and many varieties of edible squash are species of ornamental gourds.

Some common ornamental gourds are “Crown of Thorns,” “apple,” “bell” and “big bell.” Ornamental gourds may be solid colored, striped or multi-colored. They may be smooth or knotty, round or bulbous.

Luffa gourds are another genus in the gourd family that can be eaten when young or dried and used as a sponge when it matures.

There are also several other common gourds that are members of the gourd family without falling into the aforementioned genus. These include “Turk’s Turban,” “Balsam apple,” “Hedgehog” and “Teasel” gourds. All of which have a distinct personality.

As you search for the perfect pumpkin this fall, see how many species of gourds you can find for your fall display, too.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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