Cucurbits

The Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae) Including squash, pumpkin, cucumber, gourd, watermelon, and cantaloupe.

Overview-These are a group of ornamental trailing or climbing plants.  They are sometimes called the "vine vegetables".  Gourds are vegetables that are high in vitamin A and tasty to eat in many different ways.  The plants do take up quite a lot of garden space, so plan accordingly if you are thinking of adding them to your home garden.  The fruits are large and fleshy with a  hard outer covering.  These plants were originally native to the tropics, but now can be found cultivated in every country where crop plants can be grown in the summer.

Hardiness-  There are many different species that are hardy in different zones.  Gourds do not like frost, so check your seeds and your home zone carefully before making a choice.  Be sure to not plant them too early in the spring, and protect them against early frosts in the fall.

Uses- Used primarily to produce the food at the end of the season, not very useful for landscape beauty due to the amount of space needed to allow the vines to spread.

Flowers- Usually yellow with five fused petals.

Size and Shape- The fruits vary in size and shape by species.  All of the vines grow to be many feet long.

Culture- Seeds are planted in "hills" (small mounds of dirt you can make yourself in your garden).  Seeds are planted in the spring, the plant grows well in warm and hot weather with plenty of water.  Flowers form in summer to produce fruits in the early fall.

Features- Aside from the obvious feature of being a nutritious and delicious food, one species of this family is also what turns into the popular Loofah sponge.  When the fruit dries, the outer covering falls off and the watery flesh dries up and disappears and the seeds drop out.  What's left is the vascular bundles.  This skeleton, when moistened, becomes a bath sponge that doesn't scratch the skin and some claim it can even remove cellulite.