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English name:

Bottle gourd
Family name:
Scientific name:
Lagenaria siceraria
Introduced by:
Polynesian introduction
South America
See Also...


Carried from west coast of South America into Polynesia by drift voyagers early in the settlement of the eastern Pacific Islands. Historically the bottle gourd has been a part of the culture of Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America. This is one of the Polynesian cultivated plants that was reproduced by means of seeds. It is believed to be a native of Tropical Asia or Africa.


This species prefers tropical habitat and climatic conditions. In Hawaii, it is planted at the beginning of the rainy season, maturing in six months, the gourds will have the hot dry summer to bring them to full size. In old Hawaii, it was a belief that the gourd vine should not be planted where shadow of people walking back and forth will strike the flower, because the gourd is the body (kino lau) of Lono (rain God). For the same reason, the plant should not be touched by menstruating women. Thus, it was never planted near the house.


Stem: The ipu is a wide-spreading vine, hairy annual, with branched tendrils.
Leaves: The leaves are round heart-shaped, five angled or lobed, 4-16 inches in diameter.
The nocturnal flowers are white, solitary at the leaf axils and about 1.5 inches long.
Fruit: The fruit is smooth, green, mottled or white, varying widely in shape, (flattened globose, globose, club-shaped, crooked or twisted) and thick with seeds that are light colored and flat. The rind of the fruit is hard, woody and long-lasting. The gourd required careful handling in every stage of growth and preparation after picking.

In Hawaii, a pot-bellied man should plant gourds and that before he planted he should eat a large meal, so that his gourds will fill out like his stomach (opu) and must follow a planting ritual. As the gourd grew big, a prop made with three sticks is set so that the gourd hung suspended between them. This made the fruit symmetrical. When the stem and leaves withered, the fruit was ready for picking. The fruit was cleaned and processed for use.


This type of gourd was called ipu`awa`awa because it was bitter with poisonous pulp and was used medicinally. It was mainly used as a receptacle (`umeke), to hold water or food or used as rattles for dancers, to store articles and as drums for hula. Most of the Hawaiian gourds were undecorated. They were suspended in nets (koko) of olona fiber. Large containers had lids, which were sometimes hinged with two cords through holes.

There are many stories/myth associated with the ipu. There is an interesting story of Lono and the gourd associated with the control of the winds and rain. A myth identifies Lono with the southerly winds (Kona) which brought rain to the dry areas of Hawaii where gourds (kinolau of Lono) were grown. There were also sayings, associated with the ipu. For example: men without wives were "folk without big gourds back home" or a learned person is " a gourd full of knowledge".

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