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Cucurbitaceae: Gourd or Squash Family Plant Identification Characteristics.

Cucurbitaceae
Plants of the Gourd or Squash Family

Cucurbita foetidissima. Coyote Gourd.

      The Gourd family is as easy to recognize as pumpkins and squash. Look closely at one of these flowers and you will know the family. Male and female parts are borne on separate funnel-shaped flowers. There are 5 separate sepals and 5 united petals (rarely 6 of each). The 5 (sometimes 3) stamens of the male flower are often twisted together. In the pistillate (female) flower, the ovary is positioned inferior and consists of 3 united carpels (sometimes 4, as in Echinocystis) with the partition walls present, forming an equal number of chambers. (You will see the pattern when you cut across a zucchini or other fruit.) The plants form prostrate or climbing vines.

      Worldwide, there are 100 genera and 850 species, including 14 genera in North America. Pumpkins, squash, zucchini and gourds belong to the Cucurbita genus of this family, along with the coyote gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima) pictured here. Muskmelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and cucumbers belong to Cucumis. Other family members include watermelons (Citrullus), chayote (Sechium) and the Luffa vegetable sponge. Pumpkin seeds contain alkaloids capable of arresting cell division, useful for certain types of cancer. Warning: Some genera contain toxic alkaloids.

Key Words: Vining plants with tendrils.
Funnel-shaped flowers form large, usually 3-chambered fruits.

Please e-mail Thomas J. Elpel to report mistakes or to inquire about purchasing high resolution photos of these plants.


Marah oreganus. Manroot.

Marah oreganus. Manroot. Photographed on the Oregon-California coast.

There are more
Gourd Family pictures
at PlantSystematics.org.


Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
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Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
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Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany
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