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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: Preserving the Missouri gourd

July 24, 2012 | 10:00 a.m. CDT
The small round gourds on the right next to the tall gourd are Missouri gourds. Joe planted one seed in 2011 and harvested 142 gourds.

Joe G. Dillard is a longtime Columbia resident who recently published his first book "A Full Cup of Joe."

This native gourd is almost round and about the size of a tennis ball. The first one I saw about two years ago reminded me of a long-lost tennis ball that had turned brown. A cohort of mine brought one in from southern Missouri where he had found it and others in an old, abandoned field.

He didn’t know what it was, so we opened it up and saw the seeds inside and figured that it must be plant (not an animal or mineral!). That led us to look it up in Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri (Volume 2) by George Yatskievych. Sure enough, on page 982 there was a description of this plant’s fruit.

According to the book, the fruits and seeds of the Missourigourd, Cucurbita foetidissima, were used by Native Americans for food, as soap and for ornamental rattles, as well as medicinally for treatment of sores and various pains.

The gourd is treated as native in Missouri, but the map for it shows it having been found only in 15 counties. The closet ones to us are Boone, Cooper and Morgan. It is found on dry soil — Missouri and Nebraska to Texas and Mexico, west to southern California.

I planted one seed in 2011 and harvested 142 gourds ranging in size from a large marble up to a tennis ball. After the plant died back, I put part of the crop in an unheated shed, left some on the ground and put the rest in our basement. This spring, it appeared that those in the unheated shed dried down the best with little spoilage.

The book was published in 2006 and the author stated, "As of this writing, the species has not been collected in Missouri since 1956." I feel very fortunate that my cohort brought it in.

I think with a little work and ingenuity, a person could turn them into some mighty fine Christmas-tree ornaments or other decorations.

As the photo shows, we just put a few of them in front of our Mother Goose gourd as her eggs.

In addition to the Missouri gourd, we also have other similar wild plants (gourds, watermelons, squashes and cucumbers are all in the same plant family) such as the wild pear gourd, the wild cucumber, the creeping cucumber and the bur cucumber (the most widely distributed native Missouri gourd).

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.