A Close-up View of

Ornamental Gourds

Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera

by Brian Johnston   (Canada)

Each autumn, garden centres sell mesh bags containing a random assortment of ornamental gourds for use as home decor during the fall period.  As a change from my usual flower articles, I thought that it might be interesting to investigate these attractive gourds using my macro-equipment.

The strangely shaped objects studied in this article are the hard-skinned fruit of members of the Cucurbitaceae family.  Their appearance hints that they are closely related to the common edible squashes and pumpkins, and this is the case.  The fruit shown in the article are all produced by plants referred to as Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera.  A wide variety of shapes are displayed by fruit of this genus, from spherical, through pumpkin-shaped, to pear-shaped.  The surfaces may be smooth, ridged or warty, and may have a single colour, or display a variety of interestingly coloured patterns.

For thousands of years cultures around the world have grown gourds, not only for food, but as storage containers, utensils, and ornaments.  The one to six month process used to turn the soft-skinned, fleshy fruit into a hard-skinned gourd hasn’t changed much over the centuries.  First, the fruit are thoroughly washed with soap and water, and then dried.  (Today, isopropyl alcohol [rubbing alcohol] is applied to the exterior surfaces to kill bacteria, and reduce the possibility of rotting.)  In order to promote the drying of the outer surface layer, they are placed onto slotted trays and kept in a dark, dry, well-ventilated location.  After a week or two under these conditions, their skin has hardened, and their final colour is apparent.

The second step in the process takes much longer.  Here, the internal tissue of the fruit is dried by storage in a dark, warm, well ventilated location, with occasional turning to promote even curing.  Small gourds, like the ones shown in this article,  take about a month to dry, but much larger ones may require six months to fully cure.  The hardened shell of the cured gourd may be waxed, or it may be varnished or shellacked in order to preserve the integrity of the surface.  It should be noted that many gourds are painted, or otherwise decorated to produce ornaments, but the ones shown in this article have their natural colouration.

Our first decorative gourd is pear-shaped, with both ridges, and warts.  The colouration is a mixture of bright yellow-orange, and dark greenish-black.

Up close, these features are almost alien in their strangeness!

During the growth of this particular fruit, it must have received a scratch along one of the ridges on its surface.  As part of the healing process, light brown tissue filled in the gap, and produced a permanent scab-like structure.

At the base of the gourd, where the fruit’s stalk was attached, a bit of decay or mold has been preserved by the curing process.

Our second gourd is also pear-shaped and ridged, but its warts are larger.  In addition, its colouration is composed of darker orange areas, and a mixture of shades of green and black.

The base has a distinctive radial pattern of black bands.

Most of the warts are located on the surface of the spherical base.

Higher magnification reveals the speckled colouration of these warts.

Even the strange, black, flow-like patterns in the region between orange and black have interesting details.

The next four images form a sequence with ever increasing magnification, showing a particular location in the dark area of the gourd.  Notice the green and beige flow-like pattern.  I wonder what caused this striking surface texture.  Could it be the result of some damage during the growth of the fruit?

Here are two views of a particular location in the green area.  Why are the edges of the ‘cracks’ coated with beige particulate material?

Another such area is shown below.  Here the green colouration is slightly different, and there is an orangish tinge in some locations.

The third gourd is also pear-shaped, and is entirely orange in colour.  It too displays ridges and warts.

The Cucurbitaceae family produces an amazing array of colourful and multi-shaped fruits.  Seven hundred or so species produce a range from the marble-sized “jumbie pumpkins” of the Caribbean islands, to giant gourds with a length of two metres!

Photographic Equipment

The low magnification, (to 1:1), macro-photographs were taken using a 13 megapixel Canon 5D full frame DSLR, using a Canon EF 180 mm 1:3.5 L Macro lens.

An 8 megapixel Canon 20D DSLR, equipped with a specialized high magnification (1x to 5x) Canon macro lens, the MP-E 65 mm 1:2.8, was used to take the remainder of the images.


The Wild & Wonderful World of Gourds:


A Flower Garden of Macroscopic Delights

A complete graphical index of all of my flower articles can be found here.

The Colourful World of Chemical Crystals

A complete graphical index of all of my crystal articles can be found here.

 All comments to the author Brian Johnston are welcomed.

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