Friday, March 23, 2012

Cucurbitaceae - Loofahs, Lemon Cucumbers and Super Pumpkins

The Cucurbitaceae is a family of vegetables native to tropical and subtropical climates in both the New World (North and South America) and the Old Word (Africa, Europe, Asia) - consisting of such familiar household staples as cucumbers, squash, gourds, melons, and --- wait for it --- loofahs!

Really, it should not come as a complete surprise that we might be able to grow useful household items in the garden - after all, linen is made from flax, hemp cloth is made from hippies a certain green plant, and beets can make a beautiful pink food dye. But I can honestly say I had never contemplated WHERE loofahs might originate. From the loofah gourd, of course.

A sampling of cucumbers from 2011
In my 2012 garden, I am going to pass on the loofah gourd this year, in favor of pickling cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, watermelons, sugar pie pumpkins, super pumpkins, zucchini, yellow summer squash, butternut squash, and Hubbard squash (if I can manage to fit them all in). 

I'm excited about the lemon cucumbers, which are small, mild-tasting cucumbers that will hopefully grow prolifically. In addition, this will be my first year trying to grow a big pumpkin - a.k.a. a super pumpkin! I just found out that growing enormously large pumpkins is serious business. Like racehorses, super-sized pumpkins can be tracked by lineage, with the seeds of the award-winning Biggest Pumpkins being in high demand among a certain crowd. My super pumpkin seeds come from a 1,095-lb pumpkin named Urena from 2007, whose parents were the 1,100-lb Wallace (dad) and the 1,195-lb Zunino (mom).

By the way, the reason why it's easy to track the parentage of pumpkins and other cucurbits is that they have two different types of flowers - male and female. Unlike many other garden plants that have both male and female parts in the same flower (termed "perfect" flowers), cucurbits produce two types of "imperfect" flowers, one with stamens (the male reproductive part) and one with pistils (the female reproductive part). It is a simple process to use the male flower of one variety and hand-pollinate the female flower of another variety. Here's an informative article from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana about breeding your own plants, including a step-by-step on hand-pollination pumpkins or squash.


  1. If you ever DO decide to grow loofahs, I know some chinchillas who will be happy to knaw the dried fruits!