Posted by Donnetta Wilhelm, Arapahoe County Master Gardener
The Cucurbitaceae family of plants features about 975
species of food and ornamental plants, which includes cucumbers, gourds,
melons, squashes, and pumpkins. It is one of the largest plant families used as
food for human consumption. Three standouts of this plant family: it boasts
some of the biggest fruits and vegetables in world, the
plants have many interesting characteristics, and this
plant family offers a variety of uses other than just
The Guinness Book of World Records lists the largest pumpkin
in the world weighed just above 2,702 pounds in Italy in 2021. The longest
bottle gourd, known as calabash, measured 12.5 feet long in Canada in 2015. The
longest cucumber on record is 42.1 inches in 2011 in the United Kingdom. Not to
be outdone by other countries, the heaviest butternut squash weighed 65.5
pounds in 2021 in Rhode Island.
Cucurbitaceae plants are monoecious, meaning they have both
separate male and female flowers. While only the female flowers produce fruit,
they need the male flowers to accomplish this task. Plants in this family are
mostly prostrate or herbaceous annuals and are native to the tropics and
subtropic regions. When grown in Colorado, they are warm weather lovers, need full sun, and
for best production, plenty of water as the fruits begin to develop.
|A squash bee (Peponapis spp.). Photo: Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org.
Bumblebees and squash bees (Peponapis spp. and Xenoglossa spp.)
are the best pollinators of pumpkins and squash since they forage
in the morning. Squash bees have a life cycle that is perfectly timed with the
life cycles of cucurbits. These bees have very fuzzy bodies that accumulate
substantial amounts of pollen.
Three genera, Cucumis spp. (cucumbers, melons), Cucurbita spp. (pumpkins, squash), and Citrullus spp.
(watermelons), rank among the top 10 in economic importance among the edible
crops of the world.
An interesting fact about cucumbers is that because they
have seeds in the middle and grow from the flower of a cucumber plant, they are
botanically a fruit. Watermelon is considered the most popular
among the cucurbits whose delicious fruit are widely consumed throughout the
world. The red pigment of watermelon is the antioxidant lycopene, and
watermelon has more lycopene than
Cucurbits are rich in carotenoids, terpenoids, saponins, and
phytochemicals. Fruits, vegetables, and edible seeds from the Cucurbitaceae
family have a positive influence on human health. Various studies have
shown the plants in this family have antioxidant, antidiabetic,
anti-inflammatory, and cleansing properties, and the seeds and oils have high
Cucurbitaceae is one of the most varied and widely used
plant families. The cucumber is mostly used as a consumption crop, used in
soups, sandwiches, drinks, dips, and a variety of pickling. But cucumbers are
also used in a wide range of hair, skin, and beauty products. Muskmelon and watermelon
are used fresh in desserts, and alone or in combination with other fruits in
salads. Watermelon rind is commonly pickled. In Russia, beer is produced from
watermelon juice. Pumpkin and squash are cooked with other vegetables or used
in pie-making, cookies, breads, and roasted seeds.
|Squash blossoms are edible and can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients. Photo: Canva
Luffa, bottle gourd, ash gourd, bitter gourd, pointed gourd,
and Indian squash are cooked, and some are fried for the preparation of various
dishes. Blossoms of squash, pumpkin, and ash gourd are consumed as edible
flowers stuffed with a variety of delectable cheeses, herbs, rice, mushrooms,
and crabmeat. Hundreds of recipes can also be found for the use of pumpkin
Gourds are not only used for food, but for making musical
instruments, containers, and other decorative pieces. The Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourd) is commonly used for anything
from bowls to musical instruments to smoking pipes. They are the preferred
water vessel containers in many parts of the world because they are lighter
than earthenware jars. Luffa cylindrica
(sponge gourd) is used as loofah, sponges and scrubbers, and even as filters,
while Sicana odorifera (casabanana or
musk cucumber) is often used as an air freshener as the ripe fruits produce a
long-lasting, fruity fragrance. Siraitia
grosvenorii (monkfruit) is used as a sweetener, 300 times sweeter than
sugar and lower in calories.
Many different gourds found in Africa and India are used to
make musical instruments such as drums, lutes, and sitars. Shaker gourds are
probably one of the earliest of all musical instruments, and the Cucurbita palamta (coyote melon) is used
to create maracas.
|Jack-o'-lanterns. Photo: Pixabay
When Irish immigrants moved to the United States, they
brought with them the myth of “Stingy Jack.” Rather than carving turnips like
in Ireland, they began using the locally grown pumpkins for carving. The
Jack-o’-lantern variety of pumpkins have a thinner shell and less flesh for
Western culture esteems ornamental gourds for autumn
decorations inside and outside the home, special occasion accents, and
Whether trying to grow the world’s largest zucchini,
pumpkins for the World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition, cucumbers for
grandma’s favorite pickling recipe, or the beautiful ornamental gourds for
autumn or holiday décor, there is a Cucurbitaceae perfect for your garden.