Okeechobee Gourd / Center For Plant Conservation
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Plant Profile

Okeechobee Gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis)

This vine requires something (a tree or even a fence, shown here in cultivation) to truly thrive. Photo Credit: Jon Shaw
  • Global Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled
  • Legal Status: Federally Endangered
  • Family: Cucurbitaceae
  • State: FL
  • Nature Serve ID: 157219
  • Lifeform: Forb/herb, Vine
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 06/23/1988

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.

Where is Okeechobee Gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis) located in the wild?


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).


This Florida endemic has recently been found to be restricted to nine sites along the middle of St. Johns River in Volusia County and around Lake Okeechobee in Glades and Palm Beach counties (USFWS 19

States & Provinces:

Okeechobee Gourd can be found in Florida

Which CPC Partners conserve Okeechobee Gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis)?

CPC's Plant Sponsorship Program provides long term stewardship of rare plants in our National Collection. We are so grateful for all our donors who have made the Plant Sponsorship Program so successful. We are in the process of acknowledging all our wonderful plant sponsorship donors on our website. This is a work in progress and will be updated regularly.

Conservation Actions

Tina Stanley
  • 05/11/2023
  • Orthodox Seed Banking

According to a March 2023 extract of the Florida Plant Rescue Database, Bok Tower Gardens holds 8 accessions of Cucurbita okeechobeensis var. okeechobeensis totalling approximately 165615 seeds.

  • 09/07/2020
  • Propagation Research

Bok Tower Gardens has successfully propagated the species. (unknown 1989)

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Currenly persists at only a few sites on the shore of Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, where it is vulnerable to changes in hydrology. Small (1930) estimated that 95% of this taxon's former range had been destroyed by agricultural development.

S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera
  • 01/01/2010

Conversion of swamp forests to agriculture. Water level management in Lake Okeechobee. Proliferation of exotic plant species, particularly Melaleuca. (FNAI 2000)

S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera
  • 01/01/2010

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).

S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera
  • 01/01/2010

Walters and Walters have studied the taxonomy and systematic relationships of this species (1991, 1992 & 1993) Bok Tower Gardens has successfully propagated the species. (unknown 1989)

S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera
  • 01/01/2010

Management for this species is non-existent, aside from regulation of collecting and interstate trade (USFWS 1999).

S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera
  • 01/01/2010

Monitor and regulate water levels in Lake Okeechobee. 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)


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Taxon Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis
Authority (Small) Bailey
Family Cucurbitaceae
CPC Number 1148
ITIS 525086
Duration Annual
Common Names Okeechobee gourd
Associated Scientific Names Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis | Pepo okeechobeensis | Cucurbita okeechobeensis
Distribution This Florida endemic has recently been found to be restricted to nine sites along the middle of St. Johns River in Volusia County and around Lake Okeechobee in Glades and Palm Beach counties (USFWS 19
State Rank
State State Rank
Florida S1
Ecological Relationships

Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Bees Suspected Pollinator Floral Link
Longhorned bees Squash beetles Suspected Pollinator Floral Link
Flies Suspected Pollinator Floral Link

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