Hardshell Gourds

Hardshell gourds are Lagenaria siceraria. Their white flowers open as the day cools to evening and close the next morning. As the common name, hardshell, suggests, their woody shells are hard–ranging up to more than an inch thick when the growing season is long enough. On the vine, the developing hardshell is green, sometimes mottled with light and dark stripes. Dried, they are brown or tan. Hardshells will last thousands of years–they have been found in the pyramids in Egypt and in caves high in the Andes. Many get their names from their traditional uses or their shapes.

  • Banana: About the size and shape of the tropical fruit. Good for rattles, sculpture, jewelry, Christmas tree ornaments.
  • Basketball: About the size and shape of the NBA’s. Used for bowls and baskets, lamps and lamp shades, permanent jack-o’lanterns, globes.
  • Birdhouse or Purple Martin: Probably the most commonly grown hardshell, this gourd has been used in America since long before Columbus arrived as homes for birds. Favorite tenants are purple martins because the birds eat mosquitoes and chase crows while nesting, which is also corn-planting time. The shape is like a round-bottom Hershey’s kiss, 8 inches in diameter, 12 inches tall.
  • Bottle: Sometimes called lady gourd or dumb bell because of its shape, this is the traditional water bottle because a thong can be tied around its “waist” makes carrying easy. Miniatures start about 3 inches tall; giants can be 24 inches+. Craft uses include lamps, dolls and vases. Some people call this a birdhouse gourd, and it can be used for feathered tenants. Lump in-the-neck gourds are between bottles and dippers in shape.
  • Bushel: Also nine-gallon. Real giants, these gourds are often 60 inches+ around and can weigh upwards of 200 pounds at harvest. Used for bowls, baskets (sewing and trash), minnow buckets and bragging.
  • Calabash: True calabashes are not what U.S. growers call gourds, but grow on trees where the ground never freezes. However, more and more people use this name for penguin-powderhorn gourds.
  • Canteen: True calabashes are not what U.S. growers call gourds, but grow on trees where the ground never freezes. However, more and more people use this name for penguin-powderhorn gourds.
  • Club: Also Caveman’s Club. Shaped like the caveman’s favorite accessory, these gourds are about 5 inches in diameter and 24+ inches long.
  • Dipper: A long neck with a bulb is this gourd’s characteristic shape. Short-handled dippers have about a 12-inch handle, and long-handled dippers can be 80+ inches. The size of the bulb varies, but is usually about 5 inches in diameter. The traditional use is as a dipper, for drinking and cooking. Long. Also baton, snake, longissima. About 5 inches in diameter and 90+ inches long.
  • Kettle: A big brother to a birdhouse with thicker shoulders and about 16 inches in diameter.
  • Maranka: Also dolphin. Very like a short-handled dipper with a large bowl, the maranka has a unique, distinct ridge pattern on the bowl. Houses for small birds.
  • Penguin-powderhorn: When a crafter adds eyes and a painted tuxedo, this gourd is a perfect penguin. Its older use was to hold gunpowder. About 4 inches in diameter, the gourd tapers to about an inch at the stem.
  • Snake: A uniformly cylindrical gourd as much as 36-inches long, about 3 inches in diameter. A hardshell snake gourd exists, but many seed catalogues use the name for edible cucumbers.
  • Tobacco box: Most people agree that this gourd is shaped very like a canteen. Some claim it is just another name for a canteen, others say a tobacco box is more like 12 inches in diameter.
  • Warty: A pear-shaped gourd, larger than either the fruit or the pear gourd. This is covered with sturdy warts, making cleaning a worse chore than usual. Few craft uses: owl and sheep figures.

Copyright Mary Ann Rood April 7, 1998