What Is a Gourd?
Gourds are annual vining plants in the cucurbit family, which is also known for squashes, pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers. A few gourds, like the cucuzzi, are edible (harvest the barely mature fruits about 75 days from sowing, slice, sauté in olive oil, and serve with Parmesan cheese); but most are not. Gourds can be made into bottles, bowls, dippers, floats, pipes, and even musical instruments. It is quite likely that dried gourds were used as containers before fired pottery was invented.
Most gourds, including those with yellow male and female flowers, are varieties in the subspecies Cucurbita pepo ovifera. The dishcloth gourd is in the genus Luffa. A few types, including the useful calabash or bottle gourd and the edible cucuzzi (both varieties of Lagenaria siceraria), bear white flowers and may be pollinated by nocturnal moths.
Gourds may be small or large, smooth or covered with carbuncles and warts. Some have a solid color; others are striped, banded, or two-toned. Michael's favorites include Lunch Lady, small Goblin Eggs, and Daisy Gourd, all of which are color mixtures; plus 'Nest Egg', which starts yellow and fades to white, and heirloom 'Tennessee Spinning'.
"Lunch Lady is an enormous fruit," he says. "I do not know where the name came from. After teaching elementary art for 33 years, I have always thought fondly of the lunch ladies in schools, and hate to say that the gourds named for them are covered in warts. They come in all different colors—you never know what you are going to get, but you won't be disappointed.
"Goblin Eggs and 'Nest Egg' are sometimes placed in chicken coops to show hens where to lay their eggs. My third favorite is relatively new: Daisy Gourd. It's flat like a flying saucer," he says, "and has rays like a composite flower." Michael grows 'Nest Egg' on the wire deer fence along the boundary of the two cultivated acres. He varies his gourd plantings from year to year, letting the vines mingle with flowers like cleomes to attract pollinators.
"The prolific 'Tennessee Spinning' gourds look really nice growing with flowering annual vines like Mina lobata [Spanish flag vine]. The striped green fruits are small and dangle like old-fashioned Christmas lights," he says. "You get strands and strands of them." They do look like little tops. Michael likes to put them on wooden skewers and stick them into arrangements with flowers.