We think of gourds as fun and sometimes downright ugly fall decorations, but these plant seeds were given more respect in yesteryear. Yes, gourds have been around for many years. They have been cultivated for centuries and were considered extremely useful for storing water, serving as utensils, storage containers and dippers.
I don’t grow gourds, but I love to see the ones in the markets and my neighbor’s garden. All are interesting but it’s the snake gourd that gets my vote.
All About Gourds
I’ve always considered gourds weird and wonderful fruits that offer nothing for lunch but make great fall decorations. Though they are in an eccentric class of their own, gourds are exactly the same, botanically, as other members of the Cucurbitaceae family like squash and pumpkins.
But, unlike squashes and pumpkins, gourds develop into hard-shelled, non-edible cucurbit fruits. Everyone who does Halloween knows what happens to a pumpkin left to sit outside or on a windowsill for a month: squish/squash city! But a gourd is a different story.
There are softshell gourds and hardshell gourds. The former are the cute little gourds – striped, ridged or gnarled – that are kissing cousins of squash. They make great deco but only last one season. I prefer the hardshell type, Lagenaria siceraria. These are the ones used as drinking vessels by the Egyptians, and that’s exactly what the botanical name means.
Hardshell gourds are the more eccentric of the gournd clan. Think penguin gourds, speckled swan gourds or birdhouse gourd. Lagenarias all. These gourds can last for years and have served humankind as containers and utensils.
I first saw the snake gourd growing in a friend’s garden, and I nominate it for the ugliest gourd around, but I am not sure that label applies. I can’t call the snake gourd lovely, but if it’s ugly, it’s cool-ugly. I have a variety of snakes and serpents on my property in France and this gourd would fit right in.
The snake gourd (Trichosanthes cucumerina var. anguina) is actually edible when it is young. It’s a member of the pumpkin family (Cucurbitaceae) but has seeds similar to its cousin, the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus). It’s worth growing for the scented, night-blooming white flowers. But as the “snake” matures, it hardens up nicely and can serve as an unusual garden ornament for some time. Or pose a few by your gate instead of a “beware of the dog” sign!