Cucurbita foetidissima Kunth

Buffalo Gourd


CC = *
CW = 5
MOC = 16

© DETenaglia

Family - Cucurbitaceae

Habit - Monoecious, perennial vine with deep, stout, branched, somewhat tuberous roots

Stems - Trailing, to 5 m or more long, stout, coarsely roughened and hairy, sometimes rooting at the nodes, usually producing a strong aroma similar to that of garlic, especially when crushed or bruised.

Cucurbita_foetidissima_stem.jpg Stem and node.

© DETenaglia

Cucurbita_foetidissima_tendril.jpg Tendril.

© DETenaglia

Leaves - Mostly long-petiolate, the petioles 3-12 cm long, lacking glands at the tip, coarsely roughened with stout, multicellular, pustular-based hairs. Blades 10-40 cm long, 6-30 cm wide, triangular to ovate-triangular in outline, distinctly longer than wide, not lobed or with a pair of very shallow lobes toward the base, these broadly triangular, mostly sharply pointed at the tip, the surfaces densely roughened with short, stiff, pustular-based hairs (usually scattered, longer, stouter hairs also present), appearing gray or strongly grayish-tinged.

Cucurbita_foetidissima_leaf.jpg Adaxial surface.

© DETenaglia

Cucurbita_foetidissima_leaf2.jpg Abaxial surface.

© DETenaglia

Cucurbita_foetidissima_leaf_surface.jpg Leaf surface.

© DETenaglia

Inflorescence - Flowers solitary at stem nodes.

Flowers - Staminate flowers with longer stalks than those of the pistillate flowers. Calyx lobes 9-20 mm long. Corollas 5-10 cm wide, deeply bell-shaped, 5-lobed, yellow to yellowish orange. Staminate flowers with the filaments fused into a tube except sometimes at the very base (the anthers fused into a headlike mass). Pistillate flowers with 3 staminodes, the hypanthium and calyx moderately to densely hairy, the ovary with numerous ovules per placenta, the stigma 3-5-lobed or more or less 6-10-lobed.


© DETenaglia

Cucurbita_foetidissima_calyx.jpg Flower, side-view.

© DETenaglia

Fruits - Modified berries 6-10 cm long, globose, with a pulpy, fibrous central portion and a relatively thin, hardened shell, indehiscent, with a stalk 15-40 mm long, the surface smooth and glabrous, usually green with irregular lighter longitudinal stripes, bleaching to yellow, tan, or ivory-colored with age. Seeds numerous, 6-10 mm long, elliptic to obovate in outline, flattened, sometimes with a pronounced, thickened rim, mostly rounded at the tip, the surface otherwise smooth, white, cream-colored, or tan, less commonly brown or black.

Cucurbita_foetidissima_young_fruit.jpg Immature fruit.

© DETenaglia

Cucurbita_foetidissima_fruit.jpg Fruit interior.

© SRTurner

Cucurbita_foetidissima_fruits.jpg Persistent mature fruits

© SRTurner

Flowering - June - September.

Habitat - Railroad embankments, roadsides, fields, waste ground.

Origin - Native to U.S. and Mexico.

Lookalikes - Broadly, other cucurbits.

Other info. - This vining pumpkin species can be found in scattered counties throughout Missouri but is generally uncommon in the state. In fact, recent collections are rare, with the last being in 1977. The nativity status in Missouri is somewhat controversial, as it was not collected here until 1891 despite being a large and conspicuous plant, and many of the collections have been along railroads. The plant's main range begins just to the west of Missouri, and it is common throughout the Southwest. The vines and their distinctively shaped leaves, usually with a somewhat grayish cast, are a common sight along roadsides in the west. The distinctive fruits are another good clue to identification, and these will often persist on the ground into the following year.

The species name foetidissima means "foul smelling," and the plant has also been called "stinking pumpkin." Crushing or disturbing any part of the plant emits an unpleasant odor. The fruits contain saponin glycosides and will foam like soap when crushed in water. Native Americans used the plant as a soap substitute, and also for food, ceremonial rattles, and medicinal purposes. More recently, the plant has been considered as a potential crop species for arid regions, as the seeds are high in both oil and protein.

Photographs taken at Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve, KS., 9-20-09 (DETenaglia); also along the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Cochise County, AZ, 9-7-2013, and near Alamogordo, Otero County, NM, 2-27-2018 (SRTurner).