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Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl.

Publ. Field Columbian Mus., Bot. Ser. 3: 435 (1930).
Chromosome number
2n = 22
Cucurbita lagenaria L. (1753), Cucurbita siceraria Molina (1782), Lagenaria vulgaris Ser. (1825), Lagenaria leucantha (Duchesne ex Lam.) Rusby (1896).
Vernacular names
Bottle gourd, calabash gourd, common gourd, white-flowered gourd (En). Gourde, calebasse, courge bouteille (Fr). Cabaceiro, cabaça, abóbora carneira, colombro (Po). Mbuyu, mmumunye, mmung’unye (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Lagenaria siceraria is one of the earliest domesticated plants and has a pantropical distribution. Its origin is believed to be in Africa, but its wild progenitors have not been identified with certainty. Recently, a wild specimen close to Lagenaria siceraria has been recorded from Zimbabwe. Bottle gourd may have been spread by ocean currents to the shores of the New World or by human migration in prehistoric times. It is known to have been cultivated in Africa, Asia and the New World in pre-Columbian times. The earliest evidence of its use comes from Peru dating from 13,000–8000 BC. Lagenaria siceraria also spread at a very early date throughout tropical and subtropical Asia. The earliest remnants from Japan date back to 6000–4000 BC. In Africa, the oldest remnants were found in Egypt and Zambia and date from 3000–1000 BC. Bottle gourd has probably been domesticated independently in Africa, South America and Asia. The independent domestications are reflected in the variability of commercial cultivars.
The use of bottle gourd as a container is reported from most parts of the tropics and subtropics of the world, including all countries of Africa. Its use as a vegetable is more restricted.
Bottle gourd is cultivated for a wide range of uses including food, storage, utensils, and medicine depending on cultivar and custom. Young, tender, non-bitter fruits are used as a vegetable. They are cut or peeled, and then boiled for 10–15 minutes until soft. Salt may be added to the product that is then eaten as a snack. The young fruits are also mashed, salted and fried and used as a stew. Without added condiments, they are slightly sweet or have a bland taste reminiscent of avocado. Some types are bitter even when young and these are not eaten. In areas where bottle gourd is not eaten, local landraces are often bitter. Young shoots and flower buds of less bitter types are occasionally eaten as a green vegetable. The shoots are boiled with milk or coconut milk to reduce the unpleasant, peculiar flavour. They may also be mixed with other leafy vegetables, e.g. Asystasia gangetica (L.) T.Anderson, Cleome gynandra L., Corchorus olitorius L., Cucurbita moschata Duchesne, Launaea cornuta (Hochst. ex Oliv. & Hiern) C.Jeffrey or Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. In Congo, some cultivars have edible leaves, but in most communities the leaves are eaten only as an emergency food.
In West Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, people extract an edible oil from the seed. In southern Africa this oil is used when alternative vegetable oils are scarce or when disposable incomes are very low, but in West Africa the oil is commonly available in markets. The seeds of less bitter types are roasted and consumed as a snack or pounded and mixed with maize or millet flour. In Asia, where many of the above-mentioned uses are also found, some bottle gourd cultivars are used as a rootstock for grafting musk melon, watermelon and cucumber to control soilborne diseases. In Japan, long strips of fruit skin are commonly boiled, soaked in soya sauce with a little sugar, and used as an ingredient of ‘sushi’.
Roots and fruits are sometimes used as a purgative. The leaves are used as a medicine for stomach-ache, skin rashes and swelling due to snake poison. The myriad of sizes and shapes of the fruits, both genetically and environmentally determined, accounts for the tremendous variation in the use of the dry shell (calabash) as containers and utensils in many parts of the world. Calabashes are used for storing and transporting drinking water, porridge, fresh or fermented milk, local beer and wine, honey, ghee, animal fat, salt, tobacco, perfume, medicinal herbs, crop seeds or food grains. They are also made into beehives, containers for brewing beer or keeping clothes (like a suitcase), or into animal traps and decoys, animal feeders, air pumps, well buckets, vases, funnels, floats for fishing nets, beds for babies, washbasins, irrigation pots, cages for chicks, masks and containers for seedlings. Calabashes are used to make many musical instruments. The Luo of Kenya make a large traditional bugle from bottle gourds, blown during ceremonies and for chasing away wild animals. In West Africa calabashes may be used as resonance boxes for the kora (harp or lute) and balafon (xylophone). The Bavenda of southern Africa also use calabashes to make xylophones. Smaller types are used to make single-wire traditional guitars or fiddles. Other musical instruments made from calabashes include drums, wind instruments, rattles and hand pianos. Kikuyu sorcerers of Kenya use calabashes for divination by the casting of lots and to anoint circumcision initiates and marriage couples. The Luo in Kenya traditionally use them for smoking cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.). They are also used for manufacturing necklaces, earrings and other accessories. Large halves are commonly used for winnowing grain, the smaller sizes are cut at the top or in halves and used as a drinking cup or as ladles. The use of bottle gourd is deeply associated with local culture among African communities. Songs, proverbs, stories, beliefs and myths are associated with bottle gourd in almost every community.
Production and international trade
Bottle gourd as a vegetable is mainly cultivated for home consumption, although excess young edible fruits are sometimes sold in local markets. The products made from bottle gourd shells are commonly traded in local markets. The seed oil is occasionally traded in West and southern Africa as cooking oil.
The composition of immature fruits of bottle gourd per 100 g of fresh edible portion is: water 93.9 g, energy 88 kJ (21 kcal), protein 0.5 g, fat 0.1 g, carbohydrate 5.2 g, fibre 0.6 g, Ca 44 mg, P 34 mg, Fe 2.4 mg, β-carotene 25 μg, thiamin 0.03 mg, niacin 1.2 mg, ascorbic acid 10 mg. The composition of the leaves per 100 g of fresh edible portion is: water 83.7 g, energy 180 kJ (43 kcal), protein 4.4 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrate 8.3 g, fibre 1.8 g, Ca 560 mg, P 88 mg, Fe 7.4 mg. This composition is in line with other medium-green leafy vegetables. The seed contains per 100 g edible portion: water 3.2 g, energy 2410 kJ (574 kcal), protein 28.2 g, fat 49.8 g, carbohydrate 14.6 g, fibre 2.0 g, Ca 75 mg, P 1100 mg, Fe 5.3 mg, thiamin 0.40 mg, riboflavin 0.26 mg, niacin 4.6 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968). The oil is rich in linoleic acid (about 60%), but contains only 0.1% linolenic acid. One of the major bitterness components of the bitter fruits is the poisonous cucurbitacin B. Elaterase, an active β-glucosidase, has been isolated from the juice of bitter fruits; it is an enzyme for hydrolysis of the bitter principles of the Cucurbitaceae, capable of splitting glucose from tri-glucosides and tetra -glucosides. In an experiment, the flesh of bitter fruits fed to rabbits caused restlessness and dyspnoea with death from asphyxia, and paralysis in one animal.
Adulterations and substitutes
In cooking, pumpkin leaves can be used as a substitute for bottle gourd leaves. The seeds can be replaced by seeds of other Cucurbitaceae species, e.g. Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai, Cucumeropsis mannii Naudin, Cucurbita maxima Duchesne. For storage purposes, it can be replaced by the fruits of the tree calabash (Crescentia cujete L.) or by containers made of other materials.
Monoecious, annual, climbing or trailing herb, with proximally bifid tendrils. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules absent; petiole 2.5–12.5 cm long, pubescent, with a pair of tiny glands at apex; blade broadly ovate to kidney-shaped in outline, 3–33 cm × 4.5–33 cm, undivided or shortly palmately 5–9-lobed, cordate at base, shallowly sinuate-dentate, palmately veined. Flowers unisexual (rarely bisexual), solitary in leaf axils, regular, 5-merous, up to 15 cm in diameter; receptacle tube obconic-cylindrical, 1–1.5 cm long, lobes remote; petals free, white; male flowers on long pedicels 7–31 cm long, with 3 free stamens inserted on the receptacle tube, connectives broad; female flowers on short pedicels 2–10 cm long, with inferior, densely hairy ovary, stigma 3-lobed, thick, each lobe 2-lobed. Fruit a berry, very variable in size and shape, often globular, bottle- or club-shaped, up to 1 m long, white-yellow to dark green when young, sometimes whitish speckled, usually brown when mature and dried, with hard, durable rind, flesh white and soft, many-seeded. Seeds oblong, compressed, up to 2 cm long, emarginate at base, with 2 flat facial ridges, smooth, sometimes rugose, whitish to brownish.
Other botanical information
Lagenaria comprises 6 species, 5 of these occurring wild in Africa. These wild species are perennial and have spherical to ellipsoid, small-sized bitter fruits with a slimy juice containing saponins. The cultivated Lagenaria siceraria is polymorphic and has numerous landraces; its phenotypic variation is continuous and difficult to quantify. The hard and thick rind and well-developed ‘handle’ of the fruit are often characteristic, but in Kenya local edible types are small and round. In some communities, fruits with a warted surface are selected for consumption. The variation in fruit shape is larger than that in seed shape and there is no correlation between fruit and seed shape.
Growth and development
Emergence of the seedling occurs 4–5 days after sowing. The vining stage starts 2–3 weeks after emergence with rapid elongation of lateral stems and growth of tendrils. Growth slows down at the onset of flowering. Male flowers appear 8–18 weeks after planting, female ones 2–4 weeks later. The female flowering period lasts 3–12 weeks depending on cultivar and environmental conditions. In some cultivars, a secondary flowering period occurs during the next rainy season from the stems that survived the dry season. Female flowers are formed on the auxiliary stems, and rarely towards the tip of the main stem. Female flowers in the lower leaf axils have a greater chance of developing fruits than those appearing higher up on the stem. Female flowers at the end of the creeping branches develop smaller fruits or dry up. Flowers open in the evening and close after 8–20 hours. The stigmas are receptive from 6 hours before to 36 hours after anthesis. Male flowers open earlier and close later than female ones. There are more male flowers than female flowers, the ratio being approximately 9:1, although it is lower at low temperatures. The flower ratio also depends on cultivar. Pollination is mainly by bees; hawkmoth (Hippotion celerio) and a skipper butterfly (Gorgyra johnstoni) are major pollinators in Kenya. For seed production, fruits need 2–3 months to mature.
Bottle gourd is widely cultivated in the tropics from sea-level to 2500 m altitude, and is found as an escape especially along riversides and lakeshores. It needs a well-distributed rainfall of 600–1500 mm and is adapted to semi-arid conditions. The optimum temperature for germination is 20–25°C and the germination rate declines below 15°C or above 35°C. It tolerates low temperatures, but if the temperature drops below 10°C flowering is reduced; it does not tolerate frost. Low temperatures and drought lead to flower and fruit abortion. Bottle gourd grows in a wide range of soil types but prefers well-aerated, fertile soils with pH 6–7.
Bottle gourd has a good ability to suppress weed. It has an extensive but shallow root system and soil tillage should be minimized during the fruiting stage. Manual weeding around the base of the plant is recommended. For continuous growth, irrigation is needed in the dry season. In some communities people use an old clay pot half buried next to the plant base for irrigation. The container is filled with water and covered with a half bottle gourd serving as a lid. The water gradually oozes out to the roots. Water is added once or twice a week. Bottle gourd responds well to fertilizer. When available, ample manure is applied at planting. A chemical fertilizer NPK 10–10–20 at a rate of 500 kg/ha or 100 g per plant may be applied. Fruit size largely depends on the position of the fruit on the branch, the amount of rain, and damage by pests, whereas the fruit shape is largely determined by the cultivar. The shape can be manipulated by measures such as placing young fruits upright on a flat ground to obtain a gourd with a flat bottom, tying a string around the neck, or by hanging the fruits straight or curbed on a fence. To obtain extra large fruits for use as container, often only a single fruit is left per plant.
Propagation and planting
Bottle gourd is propagated by seed, which is often sown directly. Transplanting is possible if seed is scarce. As no commercial cultivars are available in Africa, farmers carefully select dried intact fruits for seed for the next crop. The seeds are often preserved in the intact fruits. For vegetable use, non-bitter types are selected by scratching the surface or chewing the leaves. The weight of 1000 seeds is about 150 g. Planting normally takes place with the onset of the rainy season. Seed dormancy often occurs. A heat treatment of 50°C for 7 days markedly increases the germination rate. Bottle gourd is often planted near the homestead. During the wet season it is often planted on mounds, in the dry season in depressions. It is sometimes intercropped with other vegetables and grain crops, especially pumpkin. Per hole 2–3 seeds are sown, at a spacing of 1 m in the row and 2 m between rows. Weak or diseased seedlings are thinned out 3–4 weeks after sowing, leaving one plant per hole. Spontaneous plants in fields are often retained. In cattle-herding communities such as the Maasai of Kenya, bottle gourd arises spontaneously along the fences of cattle enclosures where there is ample manure and enough moisture. Plants with large elongated fruits can occasionally be found on fences in abandoned homesteads. In Asia special vegetable cultivars are commercially grown on stakes or trellises, using the same cultural practices as for cucumber.
Diseases and pests
Major diseases of bottle gourd are anthracnose (Colletotrichum lagenarium) during the wet months and powdery mildew (Erysiphe cichoracearum and Sphaerotheca fuliginea) during the dry season. Sclerotium basal stem rot, fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. lagenariae) may attack the crop. Removal of infected leaves and good cultivation management are recommended to prevent disease build-up. Cultivars differ in resistance. The roots are susceptible to Meloidogyne root-knot nematodes. Cucurbit leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) are common pests. They make circular holes in the leaves and damage the flowers. Blister beetles (Coryna apicicornis) eat the flower petals.
For use as a vegetable, fruit harvesting starts three months after sowing. Young fruits of all ages are edible and may be picked, including the ovary of the flower. Continuous picking of young fruits prolongs crop duration and as many as 20 pickings may be possible. Fruits are best harvested with a sharp knife, leaving about 5 cm stalk on the fruit. Leaves are picked from 2-month-old plants onwards.
For seed production fruits are harvested when fully mature. Fruits are mature when the shell hardens and outer and inner layers start to yellow. This stage can be determined by scratching the fruit thinly to expose the inner yellow part. For use as containers, fruits are permitted to mature completely on the plant.
A yield of 25 t/ha of fruits weighing 0.5–2 kg is considered a good yield in South-East Asia. One to more than 30 fruits may be harvested from one plant depending on the cultivar and growing conditions.
Handling after harvest
Young fruits should be consumed within 2 weeks after harvest. Longer storage causes rapid loss of water, leading to loss of hairs and shine of the fruit surface.
For container use, seeds and pulp have to be removed. The fruits can be stored for a long time intact in a dry place. To clean the shells, the fruits may be buried in the soil for a few weeks or soaked in water before the skin is polished to get a clean surface. To remove the pulp, the fruits are soaked in water and the inside is stirred with a stick or they are filled with small stones and shaken. The tough rind of 1–13 mm thickness remains, and is dried well and cleaned further before use.
The oil is extracted from the seeds by first roasting and grinding them followed by boiling. This process frees the oil which floats to the surface of the water and is skimmed off.
Genetic resources
In Africa local farmers maintain a large number of cultivars. The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) and the Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK) of the National Museums of Kenya have collected and maintain hundreds of Kenyan landraces in the Gene Bank of Kenya. Of these, 30 local cultivars were described. Some are demonstrated in the field of the Botanic Garden of the National Museums. Bottle gourd accessions are available in genebanks in Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Genetic erosion in local cultivars is taking place.
Fruit shape is strongly genetically determined, but fruit shape and size are also environmentally influenced. Bitter is a dominant character over sweet, with a 3:1 ratio. In Kenya, hand pollination showed that local cultivars cross easily and that crosses with the wild relative Lagenaria sphaerica (Sond.) Naudin are 40% successful. The interspecific hybrids show strong lateral stem development. Possibly natural hybrids do not occur because female flowers mostly abort and male flowers have less than 1% pollen viability. Improved cultivars of bottle gourd as a vegetable are available from seed companies in India, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.
The bottle gourd is deeply integrated in many African cultures, a guarantee for the maintenance of the huge diversity, but little information has been documented. As a fruit vegetable it is expected to increase in popularity when commercial cultivars become available. Its popularity as a producer of calabashes seems lasting. The multipurpose uses of the calabash mean it has good commercial prospects. Research and breeding work is expected to lead to improved cultivars including hybrids, with the possibility of built-in disease resistances and of fruit shapes and sizes according to the use required.
Major references
• Darekar, K.S., Mhase, N.L. & Shelke, S.S., 1989. Effect of nematicidal seed treatment on root knot nematode and yield of bottle-gourd. International Nematology Network Newsletter 6(1): 14–16.
• Decker-Walters, D., Staub, J., López-Sesé, A. & Nakata, E., 2001. Diversity in landraces and cultivars of bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria: Cucurbitaceae) as assessed by random amplified polymorphic DNA. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 48: 369–380.
• Heiser, C.B., 1979. The gourd book. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, United States. 248 pp.
• Jeffrey, C., 1967. Cucurbitaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 157 pp.
• Maundu, P.M., Ngugi, G.W. & Kabuye, C.H.S., 1999. Traditional food plants of Kenya. Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), Nairobi, Kenya. 270 pp.
• Richardson, J.B., 1972. The pre-Columbian distribution of the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria): a re-evaluation. Economic Botany 26: 265–273.
• Schippers, R.R., 2002. African indigenous vegetables, an overview of the cultivated species 2002. Revised edition on CD-ROM. National Resources International Limited, Aylesford, United Kingdom.
• Widjaja, E.A. & Reyes, M.E.C., 1993. Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standley. In: Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 190–192.
Other references
• Badade, D.S., Warade, S.D. & Gaikwat, S.K., 2001. Correlation studies in bottle gourd. Journal of Maharashtra Agricultural Universities 6(1): 20–22.
• Hossain, M.A., Sharfuddin, A.F.M., Mondal, M.F. & Aditya, D.K., 1990. Studies on flowering behaviour and effect of hand pollination on fruit set in bottle gourd (in Bangladesh). Bangladesh Journal of Crop Science 1(1): 53–56.
• Hurst, E., 1942. The poison plants of New South Wales. New South Wales Poison Plant Committee, Sydney, Australia. 498 pp.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
• Pammel, L.H., 1911. Manual of poisonous plants. The Torch Press, Cadar Rapids, United States. 977 pp.
• Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp. (Reprint: Williamson, J., 1975. Useful plants of Malawi. University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi).
Sources of illustration
• Widjaja, E.A. & Reyes, M.E.C., 1993. Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standley. In: Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 190–192.
Y. Morimoto
Department of Agriculture, Graduate School of Agriculture, Tokyo University of Agriculture (TUA), 1737 Funako Atsugishi, Kanagawa 243-0034, Japan
B. Mvere
East West Seed International Ltd., Box BW 141, Borrowdale, Harare, Zimbabwe

G.J.H. Grubben
Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate Editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
PROSEA Network Office, Herbarium Bogoriense, P.O. Box 234, Bogor 16122, Indonesia
Photo Editor
E. Boer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Morimoto, Y. & Mvere, B., 2004. Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map planted

1, flowering and fruiting shoot; 2, female flower; 3, male flower.
Source: PROSEA

fruiting plant

ripe fruit (field)

containers made from the fruit

bottle gourds eaten as a vegetable in Zimbabwe

intact fruits preserved for seeds for next season

Seeds used as egusi. Cucumeropsis mannii, is at top right. Seeds at bottom right and top left both belong to Citrullus lanatus. Seeds at bottom left belong to a variety of Lagenaria siceraria from Côte d’Ivoire.