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Cute Cucurbits

December 04, 1986

You've seen them all over--miniature orange pumpkins that perch jauntily on window sills, adorn office desks and come tumbling out of wicker baskets at the supermarket or florist shop.

But they're actually gourds, not pumpkins, and you can't eat them, because they're ornamental, my dear.

At stores in the Valley, they're selling like hot cakes.

"They're very popular," said Frieda McKinnis, assistant manager of Conroy's Florist in North Hollywood. "Little kids love them. People say, 'Oh, how cute.' "

They're also pricey, these ersatz pumpkins, ranging from 59 cents to $1.98 depending on the outlet. With their bright orange color, globular shape and deep, furrowed rinds, the miniature gourds look just like their larger brethren, popular at Halloween.

Some florists suggest carving them like jack-o-lanterns or boring out a hole in which a single candle can be placed. Others like them au naturel.

"They're very popular for secretaries' desks," McKinnis says.

Like pumpkins and squash, the little gourds are cucurbits, and their ancestry can be traced back to South and Central America, where they were cultivated by the Indians. The largest varieties of cucurbits may yield pumpkins weighing up to 100 pounds.

Barry Priggi, a scientist at UCLA's Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, said the miniature pumpkins are hybrid gourds bred especially as novelty items. "I just saw them for the first time this week."

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