En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
56 ratings

Wednesday - August 27, 2008

From: Leicester, England
Region: Other
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: Are gourds poisonous, edible?
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Are all the Gourds edible? How can I know which one is which? If it is not edible, is it poisonous? If not, what is stopping us from eating them?


Since our expertise is with plants native to North America I can tell you about our native gourds.  Cucurbita foetidissima (buffalo gourd) is the species I am most familiar with since it occurs locally.  There are four native species of Cucurbita that are called gourds: Cucurbita foetidissima (buffalo gourd), Cucurbita digitata (fingerleaf gourd), C. palmata (coyote gourd) and the endangered C. okeechobeensis (Okeechobee gourd). None of my favorite toxic plant databases (Poisonous Plants of North Carolina, Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock or other Animals or Texas Toxic Plant Database lists any species of Cucurbita.  Delena Tull (Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest) says about the buffalo gourd (C. foetidissima):  "Though related to the edible squashes, the fetid odor and the extremely bitter taste of the buffalo gourd make the fruit inedible."  However, archeological investigations show that native Americans used the seeds as food.  They also used the green fruit and roots as a detergent and the dried fruits as a rattle.  Although javelinas dig up and eat the bitter root and coyotes, porcupines and humans eat the seeds, apparently no one eats the fruits.

There are two other native North American plants that have a fruit called a gourd—Ibervillea lindheimeri (balsam gourd) and Melothria pendula (speckled gourd)—but these fruits are very small and probably don't look like what you think of as a gourd.  Poisonous Plants of North Carolina lists M. pendula as causing "only low toxicity if eaten"—its berries act as a strong laxative.  None of the toxic plant databases above lists I. lindheimeri.

You can read about the gourds of other places (Africa, South America) and their many uses on Wikipedia. This article says that very few gourds are used for food, but there are some Asian species that are consumed.

Cucurbita foetidissima

Cucurbita foetidissima

Cucurbita foetidissima

Cucurbita foetidissima

Ibervillea lindheimeri

Ibervillea lindheimeri

Melothria pendula

Melothria pendula



More Edible Plants Questions

Identity of wild plum in Childress County, Texas
March 16, 2015 - I have a Wild Plum follow up question. My wife grew up around the Childress TX area. She remembers going around the creeks and gathering Wild Plums for her mother as a child. Would you have any ide...
view the full question and answer

Getting blueberries to grow in Atascosa County, Texas
January 20, 2010 - I'm trying to get blueberries started in my garden. I mulch constantly and have tons of success with almost every thing. But last year my blueberries were new plants and after harvesting a few berrie...
view the full question and answer

Leaves of Chile pequin consumed overnight from San Marcus TX
June 23, 2013 - Something ate all the leaves of my Chile petin overnight. There is a ton of frass under the plants but no sign of a critter to be found. These plants have been in the same area for years and this is t...
view the full question and answer

Grasses for horses in Austin
October 27, 2012 - Hello Mr. Smarty Plants We just bought 4.5 acres in Travis County off HWY 290. We have 3 horses we keep on it but there is very little grass in the pastures. What is the best type of grass to seed ...
view the full question and answer

Dog eats Celtis laevigata, sugar hackberry
May 21, 2012 - This is an odd question but I am a biologist and have for years notice an odd behavior in my Golden Retriever. When he gets stomach distress or something makes him nervous like an incoming thunderstor...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center