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

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Friday - August 10, 2012

From: Antelope, CA
Region: California
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of gourd plant growing in central California
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I am not sure if this flowering plant is native to North America. It is found in dry land grazing fields at about 100 feet in elevation in central California. It is large--2-6 feet across with a sticky smelly substance on the hairy leaves, multiple yellow lipped bilateral flowers with a red throat on a stem. The cucumber/gourd like fruit I saw was immature, but was horn-shaped, quite bulbous at the stem end and pencil thin at the tip. I have photos, if that would help.

ANSWER:

My first thought was that you had found Cucurbita foetidissima (Stinking gourd), but the flower shape and the fruit shape are wrong.  They are, however, gourds and pretty stinky. 

We think what you saw was the non-native species, Ibicella lutea (Yellow unicorn-plant), a weed introduced from South America.  The flowers are the right shape, the young fruits are the correct shape and it has leaves covered with sticky hairs.  You can see that the fruits turn into a dramatic seed case with two formidable-looking claws.  Another common name for the plant is Devil's Claw.  Ibicella lutea is closely related to several, closely-related North American native plant species classified in the genus, Proboscidea, including the very similar, Proboscidea althaeifolia.

If this doesn't happen to be the plant you saw, please visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that accept photos of plants for identification.

 

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