What is a gourd? Well, the definition of “gourd” is complicated, because it’s the name of a family of vegetables – but gourds are also one of the vegetables that live within that family! So the question is a, um, really gourd one.

Decorative gourds & squashes

The scientific name for the gourd family is Cucurbitaceae, and within that family lies the Cucurbita genus. The Cucurbita genus includes squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, luffa (you know, loofah sponges?!) and … gourds.

And then you have another genus within the Cucurbitaceae family, the Lagenaria genus, which also contains gourds – mostly ornamental, which look festive in fall displays but are not good for eating.

The taxonomy looks like this:

  • Kingdom: Plantae
    • Phylum: Spermatophyta
      • Class: Angiospermae (aka Magnoliopsida)
        • Subclass: Dicotyledoneae
          • Family: Cucurbitaceae (also called Cucurbits or Gourd Family)
            • Genus: Cucurbita (squash, pumpkin, gourds, and some decorative gourds)
              • Species: Cucurbita pepo (such as Acorn, Delicata, Spaghetti Squash, Summer Squashes)
              • Species: Cucurbita maxima (such as Hubbard, Turk’s Turban)
              • Species: Cucurbita moschata (such as Butternut, Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, and many other pumpkins)
              • Other species: Cucurbita argyrosperma, Cucurbita digitata, Cucurbita ficifolia, Cucurbita foetidissima, Cucurbita okeechobeensis, and Cucurbita palmata, many of which contain various types of gourds.
            • Genus: Lagenaria (mostly decorative gourds)
              • Species: Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourds, birdhouse gourds, dipper gourds, calabash)

So a gourd can be:

  1. The name of the family, Cucurbitaceae, that squash, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers, and melons reside within
  2. One of the many hard-shelled vegetables (okay, they’re actually fruits, but that’s a topic for another day) that live within the gourd family
  3. Another word for pumpkin or squash
  4. A decorative gourd that is excellent for autumn displays but not for eating
Decorative gourds & squashes

I think we might have also inadvertently learned about the origin of the idiom “losing your gourd” … does it perhaps have to do with wrapping one’s brain around the actual definition of the word “gourd?!” 🤯

Sources: Utah State University, Introduction to Vegetable Classification by Family Groups and Growth Habits by Larry A. Saggers | ITIS Integrated Taxonomic Information System (a fun rabbit hole if you want to dive deep into botanical classification!)

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