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Gorgeous Gourds

October 28, 2000|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Gourds are members of the Cucubitaceae family, which also includes the pumpkin.

There are three main types: hard-shelled, ornamental and luffa.

Hard-shelled gourds known as Lagenaria are the variety that has been grown and dried throughout the ages on almost every continent.

Ornamental gourds (Cucurbita pepo) are known for their dramatic colors and shapes and often adorn holiday baskets. Their shells are thinner than hard-shelled types.

The third type of gourd is the Luffa, from which is extracted the luffa sponge.

Gourds are used for decorative purposes here, but in other countries they serve as food and water vessels and as instruments and for religious services.

Hot summers make Southern California one of the best places to grow them.

KNOW YOUR GOURD

There are hundreds of ornamental and hard-shelled gourds. The following are common and easy to find:

Ornamental Gourds

* TURK'S TURBAN: This unusual gourd has an orange-red, rounded bottom and a smaller, rounded top that resembles a turban. The top tends to be striped in yellow and red or green and yellow. One of the largest of the ornamentals, it can reach 4 to 6 inches in diameter. It's attractive enough to be used as a lone centerpiece or in combination with other gourds.

* VARIEGATED: This type comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Generally smooth-skinned, they range from 5 to 7 inches long. Many are striped in various colors while some have one color on the bottom and another on top. Colors include green, yellow and orange.

* WARTIES: This bumpy-skinned variety comes in many sizes and colors--white, yellow and green with some variegation. They add textural and dimensional interest to holiday arrangements.

* CROWN OF THORNS: This prehistoric-looking gourd has 10 protruding fingers. It comes in green and off-white and is used to adorn baskets and add visual interest. Some can be dried.

Hard-shelled Gourds

* CANTEEN: This flattened, round gourd grows 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The name is derived from its use in the past as a container for liquids.

* MINI BOTTLE: This 1 1/2-inch-tall gourd is often used as a necklace ornament. Some cultures still make them into salt and pepper shakers.

* LARGE BUSHEL: Often resembling a large pumpkin, this giant gourd can reach 3 feet in diameter, although most are about 24 inches. They reach 18 to 20 inches tall. On the vine it can weigh up to 70 pounds but is light once dried. It is commonly used as a jack-o'-lantern.

* LONG HANDLED DIPPER: This type can grow from 1 1/2 to 4 feet long. The tube with a bulb at the bottom is cut in half to create the dipping tool. Handles can be trained to curve while on the vine. This gourd is also used in floral arrangements.

* INDONESIAN BOTTLE: This gourd has a large, bulbous bottom and a small bulb on top that is separated by a long, slender waist. It grows 8 to 12 inches in diameter and 10 to 14 inches tall. It is often used to make vases and was used as a bottle.

Luffa Gourds

Unlike other gourds, which generally aren't eaten, the luffa gourd is edible if picked young. It resembles a cucumber and can be eaten like summer squash. The more mature fruit is bitter and has been used over the ages as a purgative.

When allowed to grow to maturity, the interior of the luffa becomes a stringy, spongy mass. Once dried and cleaned, this is used as a sponge.

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