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Cucurbita ficifolia

Cucurbita ficifolia is a type of squash grown for its edible seeds, fruit, and greens. Although it is closely related to other squashes in its genus, it shows considerable biochemical difference from them and does not hybridize readily with them.

Common names

Asian pumpkin

fig-leaf gourd (also fig-leafed or fig-leaved gourd)

Malabar gourd or squash

pie melon (in Australia and New Zealand)

shark fin melon (in Asia)

Siam pumpkin

Thai marrow

sambo (in Ecuador)


Like most members of the Cucurbita species, it is a climbing vine that is an annual in temperate climates and a perennial in tropical zones. The plant stem can grow five to fifteen meters and produces tendrils that help it climb adjacent plants and structures. The vine can become semiwoody if left to grow perennially, although most commercial plants are annual. Its leaves resemble fig leaves, hence its most common name in English - fig-leaf gourd - and its Latin species name (C. ficifolia which means fig leaf).

The flowers are monoecious (meaning its flowers are either male or female but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by insects, especially bees. The color is yellow to orange.

The fruit is oblong with a diameter of eight inches or 20 centimeters, weighs eleven to 13 pounds (5 to 6 kilograms), and can produce up to 500 seeds. Its skin can vary from light or dark green to cream. One plant can produce over 50 fruits.

Origin and distribution

It is native to the Americas, although the exact center of domestication is unclear.

Linguistic evidence suggests Mexico, because of the wide use of names based on the Nahuatl name "chilacayohtli" as far south as Argentina. However, while archaeological evidence suggests Peru, because the earliest remains have been found there. Biosystematics have been unable to confirm either hypothesis.

Archeological records show that it was the most widespread variety of Cucurbita in the Americas, cultivated from northern Chile and Argentina to Mexico. Now it is grown as far north as southern California. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europeans introduced it to the Mediterranean regions of Europe (specifically France and Portugal) as well as India. From there it has spread to many other parts of the world and picked up more names.


Nowadays, Cucurbita ficifolia is the least cultivated of the Cucurbita species. The natural range of fig-leaf gourd areas altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 meters that have heavy rains. However, it is grown successfully in other climates, probably due to its hardy root system and resistance to viruses. In fact it is often used to graft other less resistant squash varieties. However, fig-leaf gourd can only be propagated through planting seeds. It is not resistant to frosts and so should be planted after the risk of frost has passed.


The flowers and tender shoots are used in Mexico and other countries as greens.

The most nutritional part of Cucurbita ficifolia is its fat- and protein-rich seeds, which can vary in color from white to black. They are used in Mexico to make palanquetas, a sweet similar to peanut brittle.

Another use is for its fruit or pulp. The immature fruit is cooked as a vegetable, while the mature fruit is sweet and used to make confectionery and beverages, sometimes alcoholic. The fruit has a low beta-carotene content, as can be seen from its white flesh. It has a moderate content of carbohydrates and a relatively low content of vitamins and minerals.

In Chile, marmalade is often made out of the fruit of "alcayota". In Costa Rica, it is traditional to make empanadas stuffed with sugared "chiverre" filling at Easter time. In Asia the pulp strands are used to make soup, quite similar to shark fin soup, hence the name "shark fin melon". The cultivation and this usage feature briefly in the film Grow Your Own. Across Asia eating this melon is also said to help people with diabetes. Several scientific studies have confirmed its hypoglycemic effect. [*]

The flowers, leaves and young shoots are used as greens.

The vine and fruit are used for fodder.

In Asia it is used effectively to treat diabetes due to its high D-Chiro-Inositol content. [*]

External links

Hypoglycemic action of Cucurbita ficifolia on Type 2 diabetic patients with moderately high blood glucose levels [*]

Neglected crops: 1492 from a different perspective (ch 10)

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Cucurbita ficifolia

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