The gourd family contains hundreds of climbing vines. The gourd fruits are extremely diverse with different shapes and sizes. Gourds can be as small as a pebble to as large as a pumpkin. Through history, gourds have enriched the world by being made into musical instruments like shakers, maracas, drums, horns and stringed instruments. Other uses for gourds include pipes, masks, canteens, water jugs, dippers, birdhouses and bath sponges.
Buffalo gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima) is also called the coyote melon. This warm-season perennial grows in disturbed areas like fields and roadsides. The vine grows 20 feet long producing a dark green fruit with light green stripes. When mature, the buffalo gourd turns yellow and is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
Horned cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus) is known as kiwano, melano, jelly melon and English tomato. This gourd grows in semiarid sites. The bright yellow-reddish orange fruit looks like a short, fat cucumber. The surface is covered with blunt thorns. The wild horned cucumber is bitter and toxic. The commercial variety is not bitter or toxic. The main use for this gourd is ornamental.
Teasel gourd (Cucumis dipsaceus) is also known as the hedgehog gourd. This small gourd is green with light green stripes. The surface is covered with sharp spikes. The teasel gourd keeps for several months and is excellent for making crafts.
Vegetable sponge (Luffa acutangula) or luffa gourd is a warm-season vegetable that is eaten while immature at less than 5 inches long. Once fully grown, the gourd is peeled and the inside is dried and used as sponges. The vegetable sponge fruit grows up to 12 to 24 inches and 4 to 5 inches across.
Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus) is a perennial gourd with a hairy stem. The fruit are 5 inches long, oval, ending with a beak and prickly. The wild cucumber is green, turning tan when it matures, and splits open and drops its seeds. The root can reach 100 pounds.