Photo by Cornell University
Useful, beautiful, fun, weird. Gourds have been grown for thousands of years, mainly because the fruits can be made into containers for food and water, thanks to their dense skins that dry and harden to something very like wood. The fruits come in many shapes - some are long, curving tubes, some are narrow at one end, globe-shaped at the other end (the “birdhouse” and “dipper” gourds), and some have sharp bumps and ridges that could be dragon hide.
The plant is in the cucumber family and its parentage is complicated and includes several species, but current varieties have been bred to come true from seeds. No matter the variety, the plant is a vigorous annual vine with hairy, scratchy stems, somewhat like a cucumber vine. It blooms with small five-petalled flowers that are white, hairy, veined and ruffled. It needs warm soil and hot weather to grow at full speed, to bloom and to mature its fruits.
A mature fruit will dry naturally if given a warm spot and rotated once in a while. The skin hardens, the flesh and seeds inside dry out, and the gourd can be varnished, carved, and painted to make craft pieces, or pierced and emptied to make a birdhouse. Here’s a website with some good examples of craft gourds. For instructions on making a special gourd birdhouse, here’s a site featuring craft gourds by Amish folks.
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