Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Ann. Sc. nat. Bot., sér. 5, 5: 99 (1866).
2n = 22
Lagenaria mascarena Naudin (1862), Sphaerosicyos sphaericus (Sond.) Cogn. (1881).
Wild bottle gourd (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Lagenaria sphaerica occurs from Somalia through East Africa and eastern DR Congo to South Africa; it is also found in the Comoros and Madagascar.
Leaves are collected in the wild and used as a vegetable in Malawi and Zimbabwe; they are non-bitter. Young fruits are also eaten as a vegetable in Zimbabwe. Mature fruits are poisonous, bitter and release strong-smelling volatile compounds. Fruits are used as a soap substitute.
An extract of the boiled roots is used as an internal medicine for gonorrhoea and to treat wounds in DR Congo, while an infusion from the fruits and leaves is used as a liniment to treat infections of the umbilical cord. The seeds are used in a veterinary anthelminthic. A root or leaf infusion is used by Zulu people to cure stomach-ache. Leaves and fruits are used as a medicine for chickenpox in western Kenya. Mature fruits are marketed in South Africa for unspecified medicinal use. The Kamba of Kenya use the fruits as poison for cockroaches and rats. A case of lethal human poisoning has been reported from South Africa. The fruits are used as footballs by children. Lagenaria sphaerica is grown as an ornamental garden plant.
Cucurbitacins B and D have been isolated from the fruits and roots, with traces of other cucurbitacins in the fruits. The fruits contain saponin. The seeds are rich in oil.
Dioecious, perennial, prostrate or scandent herb; stem annual, 10 m or more long, with proximally 2-fid tendrils. Leaves alternate, simple; petiole 1–12 cm long; blade broadly ovate, shallowly to deeply palmately 5-lobed, 5–19 cm × 4–22 cm, cordate at base. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5-merous, large, fragrant, hypanthium obconic below, expanded above, sepals 3–6 mm × 1.8–2.5 mm, petals obovate, 2.5–5.5 cm × 2–4.5 cm, white with green veins; male flowers in a raceme with peduncle up to 20 cm long, rarely solitary, pedicel up to 5 cm long, stamens 3, free; female flowers solitary, with peduncle up to 8.5 cm long, ovary inferior, ellipsoid, densely tomentose. Fruit a subglobose berry 7–11 cm × 6–10 cm, smooth, deep green with paler spots and patches; fruit-stalk 2.5–10 cm long, expanded at apex. Seeds oblong, compressed, 8.5–11.5 mm × 5–6 mm × 2–2.5 mm, faces with 2 submarginal ridges.
Flowers of Lagenaria sphaerica open around 7:00 a.m. and close in the afternoon. Bees and butterflies are the main pollinators.
Lagenaria sphaerica is frequently encountered in riverine forest and thickets. It is also found in disturbed vegetation, e.g. in abandoned fields and along roadsides. It occurs from sea-level up to 1700 m altitude, even up to 2700 m in Central Africa.
Genetic resources and breeding
Hybrids between Lagenaria sphaerica and Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl. (bottle gourd) are found in cultivation in eastern Africa. However, the hybrid is sterile: female flowers abort and male flowers have poor pollen viability. The possibility of transfer of desirable traits to Lagenaria siceraria still requires investigation. Resistance to powdery mildew (Sphaerotheca fuliginea) has been identified in some wild plants of Lagenaria sphaerica.
Unlike many other cucurbit species, interest in Lagenaria sphaerica appears to be limited to tropical countries. The main interest lies in its potential as a source of resistance genes for improvement of the bottle gourd.
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• Keraudren-Aymonin, M., 1975. Cucurbitaceae. In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 152 pp.
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• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Lagenaria sphaerica (Sond.) Naudin In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.