Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis
|S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera|
The following Participating Institutions are custodians for this species in the CPC National Collection:
Bok Tower Gardens
The conservation of Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis is fully sponsored.
S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera contributed to this Plant Profile.
Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis (Okeechobee Gourd) is a wetland gourd, growing fairly commonly as a vine in the bottomlands of the St. John's River and the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It grew and reproduced in perfect synch with the natural hydrologic cycle of its habitat. Gourd seeds probably germinated during the dry season, when lower water levels exposed rich swampy soils. Over the summer, the heart-shaped leaves and cream-colored flowers covered the pond apple trees, which were natural trellises for wild gourds. The vines continued to climb during the wet season. Protected above the rising water level, the flowers developed into orange-sized gourds, light green with faint stripes. These gourds contained the seeds for future generations. The vines dried, and the gourds fell to the water below. The gourds floated on the receding waters of the winter dry season, until they came to rest on exposed soil. And the cycle started again.
As of 1930, at least 95% of the pond apple forests where this species once commonly occurred had been destroyed for agriculture and water-level regulation. This species is now found only in two disjunct populations, threatened with continued water-level regulation practices and invasion of its habitat by non-native invasive species. (USFWS 1999) While this species of gourd is not edible, it is particularly important to study it and maintain it in the wild, as it is resistant to many of the diseases that affect economically important crops, including the cucumber mosaic virus, powdery mildew, and squash mosaic virus.
Distribution & Occurrence
Okeechobee gourd was originally found in swampy forests and hammocks on mucky soils (USFWS 1999). Today, these gourds are found in pond apple swamps and mucky soils on Lake Okeechobee shores and islands, and in floodplain forests along the St. Johns River (FNAI 2000). The gourd seems to need some type of natural trellis to climb on, as it grows best where competition is reduced. It is often found growing on elderberry and buttonbush. For the gourd to maintain healthy populations, fluctuations in the lake levels are necessary. Gourds have been observed growing in mowed powerline and road right-of-ways (USFWS 1999).
|Okeechobee gourd is now known from only a few sites around Lake Okeechobee and along the St. Johns River, where populations seems to be declining (FNAI 2000).|
Conservation, Ecology & Research
Flowers open at dawn, but specific pollinators haven't been identified. Likely pollinators include bees, flies, and squash beetles. Preliminary information indicates that pollination may be a problem for the species, especially in smaller populations. In one collection, hand-pollination is necessary to ensure viable seed-set. (USFWS 1999)
The fruit of this species, a gourd, is very bitter and potentially poisonous, and so is not used for food. However, its seeds are edible and nutritious, and the flesh of the gourd can be used as a soap. It is also thought that the outer part of the gourd was historically used as a ball, rattle, or ceremonial cup. (Race, Okeechobee Gourd; USFWS 1999)
Water level management in Lake Okeechobee.
Proliferation of exotic plant species, particularly Melaleuca.
Bok Tower Gardens has successfully propagated the species. (unknown 1989)
Restore pond apple swamps around the lake.
Use herbicides carefully to control exotic species in the lake; avoid aerial spraying.
Maintain hydrology of Florida's rivers.
Survey for more populations.
Research biology of species.
(FNAI 2000; USFWS 1999)
Bricker, J.S.; Brown, G.K. 1998. ITS-RFLP analysis of Descurainia torulosa (Brassicaceae). Report prepared for the Bureau of Land Management Wyoming State office. Department of Botany, University of Wyoming, Laramie WY.
Mayland, H.F.; Robbins, C.W. 1994. Sulfate uptake by salinity-tolerant plant species. Communications in Soil Science & Plant Analysis. 25, 13-14: 2523-2541.
McKendrick, Jay. 2000. Northern tansy mustard fills a niche. Agroborealis. 32, 1: 15-20.
Pitrat, M.; De Vaulx, R.D. 1979. Powdery mildew cucumber mosaic virus and watermelon mosaic virus resistance in the genus Cucurbita. Annales de L'Amelioration des Plantes. 29, 4: 439-446.
Rose, J.N. 1912. Tumamoca, a new genus of Cucurbitaceae. Contr. U.S. National Herbarium, Washington, D.C. 16
Small, J.K. 1930. The Okeechobee gourd. Journal of New York Botanical Garden. 31: 10-14.
USFWS. 1992. Proposed endangered status for the a Florida plant, Okeechobee gourd. Federal Register. 57, 98: 21381-21384.
USFWS. 1993. Endangered or threatened status for five Florida plants. Federal Register. 58, 131: 37432-37444.
Walters, T.; Decker-Walters, D.S.; Katz, S. 1992. Seeking the Elusive Okeechobee Gourd. Fairchild Tropical Garden Bulletin. 22-30.
Walters, T.W.; Decker-Walters, D.S. 1993. Systematics of the endangered Okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis: Cucurbitaceae). Systematic Botany. 18: 175-187.
Ward, D.B.; Minno, M.C. 2002. Rediscovery of the endangered okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis) along the St. Johns River, Florida, where last reported by William Bartram in 1774. Castanea. 67, 2: 201-206.