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Mr. Smarty Plants - Are birdhouse gourds deer-resistant?

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Saturday - January 24, 2009

From: Darby, MT
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Deer Resistant
Title: Are birdhouse gourds deer-resistant?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Bird house gourds: they smell nasty (to this human being) but I NEED to know if deer are as repelled as a human by the strong odor put off by the plants.

ANSWER:

We are not personally experienced in gourds, but did find out that what is referred to as a "birdhouse gourd" is Lagenaria siceraria, hard-skinned gourd. It has many common names, such as "bottle gourd" and "calabash," but they all apparently are hybrids from the Lagenaria. Members of the Cucurbitaceae, to which gourds, along with pumpkins, squash and, yes, cucumbers belong, all merrily interbreed. Species, when pollinated from another closely-related species, will hybridize naturally. So, there is constant evolution and you can never be sure exactly what characteristics you may expect in one of those hybrids. The gourd is one of the oldest plants raised by human beings, both as a food source and for their obvious utilitarian purposes. It is believed they originated in Africa, but they spread themselves and animals and birds spread them, even gourds floating in the sea can land and be fertile, so they are pretty well everywhere. An annual, the gourd requires 90-100 days of warm growing weather to mature, as well as a whole lot of space.

The USDA Plant Profile for Lagenaria siceraria classifies it as an introduced plant, and does not show it growing in Montana. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we are focused on the care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. Very seldom can a vegetable, like members of the Cucurbitaceae family, be considered as a native because of the extensive hybridization mentioned above. Therefore, we do not have this plant in our Native Plant Database, but because the question was intriguing, we tried hunting on the Internet for information about the deer resistance of the gourd plant. We checked several sites with deer-resistant plants and did not find Lagenaria listed on any of them. Then, we checked sites on the plant itself, and found no mentions of strong odors from the plant. We're not sure if you are referring to the smell as originating in the gourd itself or in the foliage. Deer do not like aromatic plants, although when they are hungry enough, they hold their noses and eat it anyway. We would speculate that deer would be more likely to eat the leaves than the developing gourds, but, again, that's just speculation. If you Google for "deer-resistant plants," you will get a number of lists that you can scan to see if you find something we missed. We also have a deer-resistant plant list, but it only includes native plants.

 

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