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The Bottle Gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) is a domesticated member of the Cucurbitaceae (cucumber, melon, and squash family) with an ancient pantropical distribution. In addition to the young fruits sometimes being boiled as vegetables, the large, strong, hard-shelled, and buoyant fruits have long been used as containers for water and food, musical instruments (drums and flutes), fishing floats, and apparel such as penis sheaths.

Along with several wild perennial Lagenaria species, the Bottle Gourd has long been believed to be indigenous to Africa. However, until the recent discovery and morphological and genetic characterization of a wild population of L. siceraria in Zimbabwe, the Bottle Gourd had only ever been well documented as a domesticated plant (Decker-Walters et al. 2004). Although apparently native to Africa, the Bottle Gourd had reached Asia and the Americas by 9000 to 8000 years ago, possibly as a wild species whose fruits had floated across the sea (experiments have shown that domesticated Bottle Gourds contain still-viable seeds even after floating in sea water for more than 7 months; Whitaker and Carter 1954). The Bottle Gourd had a broad New World distribution by 8000 years ago. Independent domestications from wild populations are believed to have occurred in both the Old World and New World (a variety of plants and animals were independently domesticated in multiple parts of the world between 5000 and 10000 years ago). A range of data suggests that the Bottle Gourd was present in the Americas as a domesticated plant by 10,000 B.P., which would make it among the earliest domesticated species in the New World. Comparisons of DNA sequences from archaeological bottle gourd specimens and modern Asian and African landraces identify Asia as the source of its introduction to the New World. Erickson et al. (2005) suggested that this "utility species" (along with another such species, the Domestic Dog) were domesticated long before any food crops or livestock species and that both were brought to the Americas by Paleo-Indian populations as they colonized the New World.

Clarke et al. (2006) developed chloroplast and nuclear markers to investigate the origins of Bottle Gourds in Polynesia and suggested that their work also has implications for understanding the complex history of domestication and dispersal of the species as a whole.

The Bottle Gourd is a diploid, self-compatible monoecious annual (monoecious plants do not have separate male and female individuals). Two morphologically distinct subspecies of Bottle Gourd are recognized: L. siceraria siceraria (the African and American/New World gourds) and L. siceraria asiatica (the Asian gourds).

(Vaughan and Geissler 1997; Erickson et al. 2005 and references therein; Clarke et al. 2006 and references therein)


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