Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae)
Biology Of Gourds
Plants in the gourd family are herbaceous or semi-woody, climbing or trailing plants. Their leaves are commonly palmately lobed or unlobed and are arranged in an alternate fashion along the stem. Special structures known as tendrils develop in the area between the leaf and the stem in some species of gourds. The thin tendrils grow in a spiral and help to anchor the stem as it climbs or spreads over the ground.
The flowers of species in the gourd family are unisexual, containing either male stamens or female pistils, but not both. Depending on the species, individual plants may be monoecious and have unisexual flowers of both sexes, or dioecious, meaning only one sex is represented on the plant. The flowers of gourds are radially symmetric, that is, the left and right halves look identical. They can be large and trumpet-shaped in some species. The petals are most commonly yellow or white.
Strictly speaking, the fruits of members of the gourd family are a type of berry, that is, a fleshy, multi-seeded fruit. In this family, these fruits are sometimes known as pepos. The pepos of some cultivated varieties of squashes and pumpkins can be enormous, weighing as much as hundreds of pounds and representing the world's largest fruits. In many species of gourds, the fruit is indehiscent, meaning it does not open when ripe in order to disperse the seeds. With few exceptions, the natural dispersal mechanisms of the pepos of members of the Cucurbitaceae are animals which eat the fruit and later deposit the seeds when they defecate some distance away from the parent plant.
The seeds of plants in the Cucurbitaceae are usually rather large and flattened, and they commonly have a large concentration of oils.