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- This article refers to the dried fruit shell. For the alternative country musical group of a similar name, see The Gourds.
A gourd is a hollow, dried shell of a fruit in the Cucurbitaceae family of plants. Gourds can be used as a number of things, including bowls or bottles. Gourds are also used as resonating chambers on certain musical instruments including the berimbau and many other stringed instruments and drums. Instruments of this type are fairly common in Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean. Gourds are also used as a tool for sipping yerba mate by means of a bombilla, in Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, where it is called "cuia" (kOOya). Birdhouse gourds, (Lagenaria siceraria), are commonly used in southern USA for group housing for purple martins, which reputedly help control mosquitoes. "Gourd" can also refer to the live fruit before it is dried, or to the entire plant that produces that fruit.
Day-blooming gourds are pollinated the same as squash, and commercial plantings should have bee hives supplied. Night blooming gourds are pollinated by moths, which are normally present in adequate supply unless they are drawn off by night lights in the area.
Gourds were the earliest plant species domesticated by humans and were originally used by man as containers or vessels before clay or stone pottery, and is sometimes referred to as "nature's pottery". The original and evolutional shape of clay pottery is thought to have been modeled on the shape of certain gourd varieties.
In addition to utilitarian uses, gourds have been assigned various other functions throughout history in various cultures. Very early specimens of gourd shells discovered (for example, in Peru) indicate the use of gourds as means of recording events of the time.
Generally, gourds are used more for utilitarian uses than for food. Only a few varieties are actually harvested for consumption, mostly in Asia. The shell of the gourd, when dried, has a wooden appearance. Gourd "wood" is essentially cellulose that has no grain, varying in thickness from paper-thin to well over an inch. Drying gourds, which takes months in some cases, causes the internal contents (seeds and fruit matter) to dry out completely, although seeds are often still capable of germination. For the uninitiated, cutting open a dried gourd (which can be done with a craft knife or miniature jig-saw) can present hazards; the resulting dust is extremely fine and can cause respiratory problems, requiring adequate protection. A bitter taste or smell is typically evident when opening a gourd that has not completely dried out inside.
It has also been found that gourd skins were used to replace missing parts of skulls back in the Neolithic times as part of primitive surgery. This is seen as evidence of prostheses, that is, artificial bones made of very fine gold sheet and gourd skins, which were inserted in the skull under the skin or to cover the hole left by the operation.
The harder outer surface lends the gourd to a wide variety of creative appeals, including carving, pyrography, sculpture, basketry, masks, musical instruments, and much more. A steadily growing following has emerged in the United States and other Western countries for Gourd art and craft-related purposes. There are many different types of decorative gourds. They include spoon gourds,spoon bicolor, orange warted, and striped pear. The spoon gourd ripens from the top to the bottom. A baby spoon gourd is green and as it grows it changes color. A yellow color overlaps the green and creates a two colored gourd. For decorative purposes the harvester can cut the gourd from the plant early when it is still two colors.