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Published In: Genera Plantarum 393–394. 1789. (4 Aug 1789) (Gen. Pl.) Name publication detailView in BotanicusView in Biodiversity Heritage Library

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 8/11/2017)
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Project Data     (Last Modified On 7/23/2009)


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Contributed by David J. Bogler

Plants annual or perennial vines (woody elsewhere), climbing or trailing with coiled tendrils from the nodes, usually monoecious or dioecious. Stems often 5-angled, often hollow between the nodes, usually hairy. Leaves alternate, often long-petiolate, simple but palmately (rarely pinnately) lobed or divided, lacking stipules. Inflorescences axillary, of solitary flowers or in clusters, sometimes racemes or panicles, sometimes the staminate flowers more numerous and positioned toward the stem tip, the pistillate flowers then fewer and toward the stem midpoint and/or base. Flowers staminate or pistillate, epigynous, with a hypanthium extending above the ovary as a tube. Calyces 5- or 6-lobed, sometimes deeply so, actinomorphic. Corollas 5- or 6-lobed, sometimes deeply so and appearing as free petals, actinomorphic, bell-shaped, saucer-shaped, or less commonly trumpet-shaped, usually yellow or white, those of staminate and pistillate flowers sometimes appearing somewhat different. Stamens 5, but often appearing fewer because of fusion of 1 or 2 pairs of stamens (appearing as 3 stamens in all Missouri genera), attached at or toward the base of the inner side of the hypanthium, the filaments sometimes fused into a column, the anthers facing outward, attached at or toward the base of the inner surface, sometimes fused, often bent or contorted, reduced to staminodes in pistillate flowers. Pistils 1 per flower, of 3 fused carpels, highly reduced or absent in staminate flowers. Ovary inferior (incompletely so elsewhere), with 1 locule, the 2–5 areas of placentation parietal (1 terminal placenta and 1 ovule in Sicyos). Style 1 per flower, the stigma 1- or 3-lobed, the lobes sometimes each shallowly 2-lobed. Ovules most commonly numerous. Fruits berries, sometimes with a hardened or leathery rind (then known as a pepo), less commonly dry and capsulelike, indehiscent or bursting irregularly in Echinocystis. Seeds numerous, less commonly few or only 1, often somewhat flattened, the seed coat usually of several layers, the outer layer sometimes fleshy. Ninety to 130 genera, 800–900 species, nearly worldwide, but most diverse in tropical and subtropical regions.

All members of the family are sensitive to frost. The cultivated species are annual vines that die back each year, and the temperate species often are perennial vines with a deep, usually massive rootstock. Cucurbitaceae generally are noted for their vining habit, coiled tendrils, palmately lobed leaves, inferior ovaries, imperfect flowers, and often large, berrylike fruits known as pepos. They are further characterized by the presence of a very bitter class of tetracyclic triterpenoids known as cucurbitacins. The family once was thought to be closely related to the Passifloraceae because of their similar tendrils, inferior ovaries, and parietal placentation, but now the Cucurbitaceae are thought to be closer to the Begoniaceae, another family with inferior ovaries having deeply intruding parietal placentae (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, 1998; Judd et al., 2002).

Many species of Cucurbitaceae have been domesticated and are grown for food, as ornamentals, or for use in handicrafts, including various kinds of melons, squashes, cucumbers, and gourds. Some species of the genus Luffa Mill. are cultivated for the network of fibers in their fruits that are dried, cleaned, shaped, and sold commercially as sponges. Seeds from some of these domesticated taxa often wind up in waste areas, where they germinate and persist for many years before ultimately succumbing to competition, herbivory, freezing temperatures, or disease. If the progenitors of the cultivated variety were adapted to local conditions and disturbed habitats, the plants may become feral and occupy habitats similar to those of their ancestors. In the St. Louis area, several species of Cucurbita and Cucumis, described below, have been found growing untended along railroads and in waste areas.

Coccinia grandis (L.) J. Voigt. (ivy gourd, scarlet gourd) is a dioecious species native to Africa, southern Asia, and Malesia that is cultivated in its native range for its edible fruits and young foliage. It is an aggressive invasive exotic in portions of Australia and on a number of Pacific islands, including Hawaii. It also has been reported sporadically as an introduction in Texas and Florida. This species was discovered in 1996 growing in a fencerow near a motel in Clinton (Henry County) by members of the Missouri Native Plant Society. It is not known whether the plants encountered were planted deliberately as an ornamental or for food, or whether the plants were a chance introduction. The species is a strong perennial with a large, tuberous rootstock and rapidly growing stems. It has unbranched tendrils, glabrous leaves, solitary or paired short-stalked flowers with white corollas 15–20 mm long, and large, fleshy, bright red, ellipsoid to ovoid fruits 2–5 cm long. For now, C. grandis has been excluded from formal treatment in the flora, but it should be monitored for potential spread in southern Missouri.


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1 1. Leaf blades deeply pinnately divided, the divisions again deeply lobed ... 2. CITRULLUS

2 1. Leaf blades shallowly to moderately palmately lobed, but not deeply divided, rarely unlobed

3 2. Stems and leaves with dense, soft, sticky hairs; petioles with a pair of disc-shaped glands at the tip ... 6. LAGENARIA

4 2. Stems glabrous or sparsely to densely hairy, sometimes roughened but not sticky (except in Sicyos, which has somewhat sticky, minutely gland-tipped hairs); petioles lacking glands

5 3. Stems relatively stout, 2–5 mm in diameter, coarsely roughened; fruits large, more than 5 cm long; seeds numerous, more than 20

6 4. Tendrils unbranched; corollas less than 5 cm wide; ovary and immature fruit pubescent (but the fruit usually glabrous at maturity) ... 3. CUCUMIS

7 4. Tendrils branched; corollas 5–10 cm wide or wider; ovary and fruit glabrous ... 4. CUCURBITA

8 3. Stems slender, mostly 1–2 mm in diameter, glabrous or hairy, not coarsely roughened; fruits small, less than 5 cm long; seeds few, less than 20

9 5. Tendrils branched; staminate flowers in racemes; stamens united; fruits with bristly spines or prickles

10 6. Leaf blades with ovate to oblong-triangular lobes, the angle between the major lobes 90° or less; corollas 6-lobed; fruits 2.0–3.5 cm long, solitary, inflated, dehiscing irregularly at the tip, usually 4-seeded ... 5. ECHINOCYSTIS

11 6. Leaf blades with broadly triangular lobes, the angle between the major lobes more than 90°; corollas 5-lobed, fruits 1.2–1.8 cm long, in small clusters, not inflated, indehiscent, 1-seeded ... 8. SICYOS

12 5. Tendrils unbranched (rarely 2-branched in Cayaponia); staminate flowers in clusters in the leaf axils, these either short-stalked to nearly sessile or long-stalked; stamens distinct; fruits smooth, lacking spines or prickles

13 7. Leaf blades 5–11 cm long, hairy; fruits 1.2–1.8 cm long, the stalk 2–3 mm long, red (rarely yellow); seeds 1–3 per fruit ... 1. CAYAPONIA

14 7. Leaf blades 2–6 cm long, glabrous; fruits 0.7–1.2 cm long, the stalk 30–50 mm long, mottled with darker and lighter green, becoming black with age; seeds 10–14 per fruit ... 7. MELOTHRIA Melothria
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