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Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae)

More On The Cucurbita Squashes Of The Americas

The pre-Columbian aboriginal peoples of North, Central, and South America cultivated or otherwise used about 17 species of squashes and gourds in the genus Cucurbita, a genus indigenous to the Americas.

The fruits of Cucurbitas were used by Native Americans in many ways, and some of these practices still persist. The ripe fruits can be cooked and eaten as vegetables. The fruits of several species are especially useful as foods because they can be stored for several months without rotting. For even longer-term storage, the squashes can be cut into strips and dried in the sun. In addition, the nutritious, oil-rich seeds of these gourds can be eaten fresh or roasted, and they also store well.

The best-known species of squash is Cucurbita pepo, the progenitor of the important cultivated pumpkins and squashes, as well as numerous other useful cultivars. According to archaeological evidence, this species has been used by humans for as long as 7,000 years. Other cultivated species include several known as winter squash or pumpkin (Cucurbita mixta, C. moschata, and C. maxima) and the malabar or fig-leaf gourd (C. ficifolia).

The buffalo gourd or chilicote (C. foetidissima) is a species native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This is a relatively drought-resistant, perennial species and was commonly harvested by pre-Columbian Native Americans, although they apparently did not cultivate the plant.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Glucagon to HabitatGourd Family (Cucurbitaceae) - Biology Of Gourds, Agricultural Species Of Gourds, More On The Cucurbita Squashes Of The Americas