Nature Bulletin No, 284-A November 25, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
the old oaken bucket -- the iron bound moss-covered bucket that
hung in the well -- there was a gourd dipper from which we drank that
cold sweet water. Around most old-time farmhouses there were gourd
vines climbing over an arbor, the back porch, or the smoke house,
because their luxuriant growth furnished shade and their fruit had many
uses. The mountaineers and Negroes in the South still grow "goords"
for dippers, bottles, bowls, spoons, nest eggs, darning balls, salt and
pepper shakers, bird houses and children's rattles. Most of the true
gourds have a hard rind or shell and, properly handled, will last
indefinitely if kept dry.
The Indians hung clusters of gourds on poles around their corn patches,
to serve as homes for the insect-eating martins, wrens and bluebirds.
They used them for utensils and various other purposes, including
rattles employed in their dances or by medicine men. Seeds and rinds,
or utensils and ornaments from gourds, have been found in habitations
of the mound builders and the cliff dwellers. In ancient Peru, gourds
were used for many purposes, including floats on fish nets.
Gourds have an important place in the poetry and mythology of the
Chinese, who use them for flutes or whistles to call pigeons, and cages
for the crickets which they keep as songsters or as fighters. Gourds have
been important in the religion, folklore and culture of the Japanese
since long before pottery was known. In India, the clarinets used by
snake charmers are made from gourds with long slender necks. The
Bushel Gourd, which attains diameters up to five feet, is used for
children's bassinets and for hula drums in Hawaii, The African natives
use a wide variety of gourds for bowls, pitchers and large baskets with
handles, maracas, marimbas and ' "talking drums".
The Gourd Family has many species and innumerable varieties. Most of
them are, or were, tropical and all but a few have tendrils, on the vines,
by which they climb. It includes the squashes and pumpkins from
America, the cucumbers from Asia, the watermelons from Africa, and
the true gourds. The latter are classified into six main groups, and
species from one or more groups are native in many countries.
In general, the common kinds of true gourds have long sprawling vines
with leaves more deeply lobed or scalloped than the pumpkin, and
white or yellow flowers which are smaller than those of the pumpkin.
They need lots of sun, lots of water, good soil and warm weather to
grow best. Some are smooth and some are warty or covered with spines.
Some have solid colors and some are striped or variously colored.
Some, like the Turk's Turban, the Devil's Claw, the Serpent Gourds, the
Hercules' Club and the Trumpet or Calabash Gourd, have grotesque
shapes. Most gourds are inedible because they contain a bitter
substance which acts as a purgative, and some are poisonous, but the
Indians cooked and ate young gourds of certain kinds; and the pioneers,
who used the fibrous center of the Dishcloth Gourd as a sponge or
dishrag, baked or boiled young gourds of that peculiar species and ate
Most Americans now grow gourds as oddities or for ornamental
purposes. You can buy seeds of many kinds, including fancy ones with
such names as Hedgehog, Sugar Trough, Bishop's Mitre, Job's Tears,
and the Gourd of the Ten Commandments. There is a Gourd Society of
America, with a magazine: Gourd Seed.
How "goordy" can you get ?
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Update: June 2012