Cucurbit Genetics Cooperative Report 1:25 (article 24) 1978
The Versatility of the Feral Buffalo Gourd, Cucurbita foetidissima HBK
W. P. Bemis
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721
A wild perennial gourd, native to the arid regions of Western North America may be the key to additional food and feed crops adapted to low water use agriculture. This plant is Cucurbita foetidissima HBK, the Buffalo gourd. It has probably been growing in our western deserts long before the advent of man. It has developed a highly efficient method of asexual propagation by producing roots along its vines when they are in contact with moist sand or soil, principally during periods of summer rains. Large homogeneous colonies of plants are formed in this manner. While the asexual propagation is the primary method of reproduction, this plant is still a prolific producer of fruit and seed. A single plant may produce several hundred fruit, each about 7-8 cm in diameter, containing about 300 seeds weighing around 12 grams. The seed when dried contain from 25 to 40 percent oil, and 30 to 40 percent protein. The oil contains about 65 percent linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid which is essential dietary requirement of humans and animals. In addition to the oil and protein of the seed, the vine growth which dies back with the advent of frost can be used as fodder. The perennial root develops into a large fleshy storage root containing 15 to 18 percent starch. A single root several seasons old may weigh 20 to 30 kg.
A research program is under way to study the domestication and utilization of this plant which in its own fashion has developed crop attributes and is adapted to our hot dry environments.