By Wendy Langhans
At least that’s what the field guide says about “Stinking Gourd“. The reality is much worse. Imagine a smell that’s a cross between dirty gym socks and a skunk. No wonder the botanical name is Cucurbita foetidissima. The Latin root foetidus gives us the English word fetid (TO STINK) and, as any musician knows, issimo means UTMOST. This plant truly “stinks to high heaven”.
The flowers are trumpet-shaped and colorful in the summer. But don’t let those bring bright colors trick you into approaching for a closer look.
The fetid smell comes from the leaves, which are grayish green and triangular in shape. Step on one of these bad boys and you’ll store your boots in the trunk of your car on the ride home. There are plenty of leaves to step on too, because this perennial vine can easily sprawl out 20 feet along the ground.
In the fall, the soft-ball sized gourds ripen and turn yellow. Native Americans have used this plant as food and as medicine to treat many kinds of ailments, everything from toothaches to arthritis. It also serves as a source of winter food for the mammals that live in our open spaces. Even the stinking leaves provide food for beetles and other insects. (Obviously, they are NOT picky eaters.)
Stinking gourd is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants, which means it’s related to all sorts of useful plants, from watermelons, to pumpkins. Unfortunately for haunted house enthusiasts (and fortunately for the beetles), the leaves dry up and become crumbly in the fall. Otherwise, they would be a great addition to a Halloween haunted house. Can’t you just imagine the looks of horror, as people get a whiff of those leaves?
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, November 17, 8-10 AM. Bird walk in Towsley Canyon. All year round, the habitats of Towsley Canyon attract a wealth of bird-life. Beginners are welcome. Bring your binoculars. 2 hours, easy walk. For a map, go here.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The Hike Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.