Ok, you are in for a real treat when you get your first glimpse of dinosaur gourd plants. The Lagenaria family to which they belong has traditionally been used as décor for sweat lodges. Today, its uses encompass crafts and art. The armored ridges in the fruit have a decidedly prehistoric feel and evoke images of Stegosaurs, Triceratops and other ancient animals, hence the cool name!
The History of Gourds
Gourds are generally not edible and have been used as ornamental items, birdhouses, art projects and traditional bowls and household items. Gourds are among the oldest cultivated plants and are thought to have originated in Africa and brought to the Americas around 10,000 years ago, initially to Central America. The history of gourds is actually quite muddy, with 3 possible introductions over the centuries. The plant’s popularity increased with the advent of tourism and gourd art brought home from far away adventures. Vividly patterned gourds are high on the souvenir list and make excellent gifts.
Dinosaur gourd plants (Lagenaria siceraria), also known as Caveman’s Club and Maranka, were given to early settlers by a Cherokee nation member in Louisiana. The fruit’s unique club-like appearance has made it a popular fall décor item and aided in its resurgence as a crop.
Growing Dinosaur Gourds
Dinosaur gourds are such fun plants to grow, especially with children. Even a curmudgeon like me finds them delightfully tongue in cheek with their wrinkled skin and coy curved necks. The rind is a glossy deep emerald color, which fades when you cure the fruits. It has a hard carapace, difficult to cut into, but often carved or painted. Northern gardeners may have trouble growing dinosaur gourds because they need a long season, at least 120 days before you can harvest.
Gourds are started by seed when all danger of frost has passed. Plant seeds in prepared soil mounded into hills spaced 6 feet apart. Place 6 to 8 seeds per hill and thin them later to the best 3 or 4 plants. For quicker germination, soak the seeds in a damp paper towel inside a closed bag in a warm location. After a couple of days, the seeds will sprout and you can plant them in the hill. Provide your plants with some sort of structure over which to grow, such as a fence or trellis. This will ensure uniform formation of the gourds.
Harvest the gourds when they are 12-18 inches long, although some can grow up to 2 feet in length. Cure the gourd by hanging it dry before you start an art project. This will ensure a long-lasting fruit, which can bear your efforts for years to come.