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Horticulture : Crop Cultivation Guidance

Cucurbits and gourds

The family cucurbitaceae is an extremely interesting and in many ways unusual, family of dicotyledons, including about 90 genera and more than 700 species which are widely distributed over in many parts of the world. This group includes a large number of vegetable fruit crops and all are trailing vine crops, grown during summer season but some can be grown during rainy periods. These crops can be grown either on ridges at proper spacing or in furrows on edges of both sides. The spacing should be 2 to 3m in rows and plant to plant 60-90cm. Cucumber, water-melon and musk-melon need 2-3kg seeds per hectare while bottle gourd, ridge-gourd and sponge gourd need 4-5kg and pumpkin and squashes need 7-8kg seeds per hectare. For summer crop it is sown from January to March and for rainy crop in June-July. In hills it is sown in April-May. All cucurbits can be grown in riverbanks in specially prepared pits. Some cucurbits are monoecious, some dioecious and some hermaphrodite. All gourds, melons, cucumber and squashes have high yielding and F1 hybrid seeds, which are better yielder and are of superior quality.


Cucumber: Japanese Long green, Straight Eight, Balam Khira, Khira Poona etc

Musk-melon: Pusa Sharbati, Lucknow Safeda, Hara Madhum Kutana, Durgapur, Madhu, Arka Jeet, Arka Rajhans, etc.

Water-melon: Sugar Baby, Asahi Yamato, Charleston Grey, Pusa Bedana (seedless), Tetra – 2, etc.

Bottle–gourd: Pusa Summer Prolific Long, Pusa Summer Prolific Round, Pusa Meghdut and Pusa Manjari.

Bitter – gourd: Pusa Domousmi, Kalianpur Baramasi, Coimbatore white long etc.

Sponge -gourd: Pusa Chikni

Ridge gourd: Pusa Nasdhar, Satputia

Summer squash: Early yellow prolific, Australian green, butternut etc.

Winter squash: Arka Suryamukhi

Tinda: Arka Tinda

The three most important genera whose species are cultivated for their fruits in the tropics are cucumbita, cucumis and citrullus. Their fruits are eaten mainly as vegetables, though some species produce fruits, which are eaten as a dessert.

Squash, pumpkin, gourds; cucurbita spp.

The genus cucubita is native to America, and includes about 25 species of monoecious, prostrate, trailing, nine like plants with rough, prickly, angled stem which tend to root at the nodes. Five distinct cultivated species, which can’t be hybridized to produce futile progeny, are cultivated. One of them, the perennial C. ficifolia, been cultivated there since ancient times it has not spread to other parts of the tropics, and is not economically important. The other four species are widespread throughout the tropics and are described individually later, they are C.pepo, C. maxima, C. moschata and C. mixta. They all produce fruits, which are variously, called pumpkins, summer or winter squashes.


The ripe, edible fruits of any of the four species which have strongly flavoured, coarse flesh, rarely eaten as a vegetable, but used in the United States in ‘pumpkin pie’, or as fodder for livestock.

Summer squash

Edible fruits of any of the four species, but most commonly those of C.pepo, eaten return immature as a vegetable. Equivalent to the term ‘vegetable narrow’ use in Great Britain.

Winter squash

Edible ripe fruits of any of the four species which have mild flavoured, fine grained flesh; eaten as a vegetable, or in pies, or fed to livestock.

Because the fruits are not harvested until they are mature and have a hard protective rind, pumpkins and winter squashes store well for consumption some time after harvest.

Cucurbita maxima originated in South America, but did not spread into other parts of the world until in the sixteenth century. It is more tolerant to cool temperature than the other cultivated species, and is commonly grown as far north as New England. The fruits of these cultivars are generally considered to have a better flavour, and are more popular than the winter squashes. Cucurbita maxima is an annual with long trailing, soft stems which are more or less round in cross section. Its large leaves are flaccid, dark green and kidney shaped with large basal nodes and entire margins. The fruit is variable in size colour and markings; it may be round, flattened or oval and has a hard yellow, orange or green, smooth or warty rind enclosing a thick, orange coloured mesocarp. Numerous seeds are embedded in the torn tissues of the placenta, which lies at the centre of the fruit. The white or brown seeds are plump but flattened, and have a slanting scar at the top. They are edible, and contain about 35% of reddish-brown, semi-drying oil.

Cucubita pepo probably originated in north-eastern Mexico. It is now widespread throughout the tropics, though poorly adapted to wet, humid regions and grows best in cool, dry environments. Cucurbita pepo is grown chiefly for its immature fruits, which are called summer squashes. The plants are trailing annuals reaching very large size, and with an extensive root system. The fruits vary greatly in size, colour and shape among different cultivars, some being long, round and smooth, while others are flattened or more or less spherical. They are usually harvested before they are fully mature, and the flesh is eaten as a cooked vegetable. The seeds of C.pepo are slightly smaller then those of C. maxima and are easier to separate from the tissues in which they are embedded; the scar at their tip is horizontal or rounded, not oblique as in the case of C.maxima.

Cucubita moschata grows best in the wet tropics and will thrive not only in humid climates, but also is very hot ones. The best known named cultivars from the United States are winter squashes such as ‘Butternut’ and others erroneously called pumpkins such as ‘Kentucky Field’, ‘Large cheese’ and ‘Dickenson’, which also have mildey flavoured, fine grained flesh. Cucurbita moschata has soft stems without prickly hairs and palmately divided leaves with rounded lobes (not pointed as in C.pepo). The large, variable fruits are borne on stiff, angular peduncles, which are markedly expanded, where they join the fruit.

Cucumis sativus is a trailing monoecious annual with rough, bristly stems and large and divided in different cultivates. The cucumbus are cultivars with fruits 20-100cm long (commonly 30-50cm long) and 3-5cm in diameter which are used mainly as a salad vegetable and eaten raw. The gherkins are cultivars with much smaller, dark green fruit in a few centimeters long, which are pickled in vinegar, spices and sugar.

Cucumis melo, or musk-melon is a fruit rather than a vegetable, the sweet, delicates flavoured, juicy flesh or the pepo is eaten raw, often as a dessert. The flesh of the dessert types may be almost white or varying shades of yellow to orange or pale green. Occasional hamaphodite flowers are produced.

Water melon (Citrullus lanatus)

The water melon originated in Africa. It is used as dessert fruit and a thirst quencher, and in the very dry parts of Africa it is utilised by both man and his animals as a source of water. Cultivars with very small fruits and hard, white flesh are used to make preserves and pickles. The melons are monoecious with pale yellow flowers, which are smaller than those of pumpkins and squashes. They occure singly in the leaf axils, the male flamers being produced before the females. The calyx tube expands into fine pointed lobes and five petals are fused at their bare. Male flames have three free stamens, the females three non-functional stamens and an inferior ovary with a short style bearing a three lobed stigma. The fruit is large and rounded or oblong with a hard smooth rind. It contains a red, pink or yellowish – white flesh in which numerous black, or white seed are embedded. There is little food value in the flesh, which contains 95% or more water and have little flavour.