The Pumpkin Family Cucurbitaceae

Although most species in the Pumpkin Family are tropical or subtropical, many occur in temperate areas of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Plants are prostrate or climbing herbaceous vines with tendrils. The flowers have

Species Family Cucurbitaceae
Figure 24.22 A water hemlock in flower.

Flowering Plants and Civilization 479

fused petals, and female flowers have an inferior ovary with three carpels. All are unisexual. Some species have both male and female flowers on the same plant, while others have only male or only female flowers on one plant. In male flowers, the stamens cohere to varying degrees, depending on the species. The family has about 700 members, several of which have many horticultural varieties.

This family includes many important edible plants, and some have been cultivated for so long that they are unknown in the wild state. Well-known members of the family include pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers, cantaloupes (Fig. 24.23B), and watermelons.

The vegetable sponge (Fig. 24.23C), when it is growing, resembles a large cucumber and has a highly netted fibrous skeleton that can serve as a bath sponge after the soft tissues have been removed.

Gourds found in Mexican caves and subjected to radiocarbon dating have proved to be many thousands of years old. Various types of gourds (Fig. 24.23A), serving many purposes, are still grown today. Some are scooped out and used for carrying liquids or for storing food, particularly grains. South Americans drink maté, a tea, from gourds, which are also used for several types of musical instruments. In parts of Africa, gourds are used to catch monkeys. A type of gourd with a narrow neck is scooped out and partly filled with corn or other grains. One end of a rope is then tied to the gourd and the other to a stake driven into the ground. When a monkey tries to grab a fistful of grain, it finds that the neck will not allow its bulging hand to be removed. Most do not realize that letting go of the grain would allow them to escape, and they stubbornly hang on until they are captured.

Melonette, a small cucumberlike vine of the southeastern United States, has seeds that can be purgative (drastically laxative). Other cucumberlike plants of the western states, man-roots (see Fig. 5.9), produce huge water-storage roots, some weighing as much as 90 kilograms (200 pounds). These roots were crushed by Native Americans and thrown into dammed streams to stupefy fish. An oil from the seeds was applied to the scalp as a remedy for infections that caused hair loss.

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