Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No, 284-A   November 25, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Beside 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 them.

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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