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Cucurbita ficifolia

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Cucurbita ficifolia
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Cucurbitales
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Cucurbita
C. ficifolia
Binomial name
Cucurbita ficifolia
  • Cucurbita melanosperma A.Braun ex Gasp.
  • Cucurbita mexicana Dammann
  • Pepo ficifolia (Bouché) Britton
  • Pepo malabaricus Sageret

Cucurbita ficifolia is a species of squash, grown for its edible seeds, fruit, and greens.[2] It has common names including Asian pumpkin, black seed squash, chilacayote, cidra, fig-leaf gourd, and Malabar gourd. Compared to other domesticated species in its genus, investigators have noted that samples of C. ficifolia from throughout its range are relatively similar to one other in morphology and genetic composition. Variations do occur in fruit and seed color, some isozymes, and photoperiod sensitivity.[3]

This species is grown widely from Argentina and Chile to Mexico. It is also cultivated in regions of the world including India, Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Angola.[3][4]

No named agricultural cultivars have been recognized. Research suggests that C. ficifolia represents an earlier evolutionary branch than the other major cultivated Cucurbita species, but biosystematic investigations have established that C. ficifolia is not as distinct from the other domesticated Cucurbita species as early botanists had concluded. It has been noted to form interspecific hybrids with Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, and Cucurbita pepo.[3] Interspecific hybrids have generally been infertile beyond the first generation unless techniques such as embryo cultivation are used.[5]

Common names[edit]


Early botanical keys described Cucurbita ficifolia as a perennial that is grown as an annual in temperate climates. More recent investigations have found that C. ficifolia is an annual that does not differ in longevity from the other annual domesticated Cucurbita species. As with these other annual species, C. ficifolia can have a vine habit that can root at the nodes. Provided proper conditions including a frost-free climate, it can grow for an indefinite amount of time in this manner.[15][3][5] The plant stem can grow five to fifteen meters and produces tendrils that help it climb adjacent plants and structures. Its leaves resemble fig leaves, hence its Latin species name ficifolia, which means fig leaf.

The plant is monoecious with imperfect flowers (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 of the flowers is yellow to orange.

In contrast to other domesticated Cucurbita that have highly variable fruit, the fruit of C. ficifolia is uniform in size, shape, and color. The fruit is always oval, resembling a watermelon.[15] This species is the only Curcubita to have black seeds, but some C. ficifolia also have dark brown or buff colored seeds that are similar to other species in the genus.[3] 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 fruit. The fruit can last without decomposing for several years if kept dry after harvest.

Non-morphological indications of genetic diversity within the species include its cultivation across a wide geographic range, where altitude is one of the only conditions that is consistent. Another reflection of genetic diversity is that C. ficifolia is grown in a variety of agricultural systems ranging from high competition such as in heavy rain maize fields, to less competitive and more intensive cultivation such as dry season maize fields, vegetable gardens, and commercial agricultural plots. Variations in productivity may also reflect genetic diversity within the species.[5]

Origin and distribution[edit]

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 "tzilacayotli" or "chilacayohtli" as far south as Argentina. However, archaeological evidence suggests Peru because the earliest remains have been found there. Biosystematics has been unable to confirm either hypothesis.[16][17] A literal translation of tzilacayotli is "smooth squash".[18]

Archeological records suggest that C. ficifolia was once the most widespread variety of Cucurbita in the Americas, cultivated from northern Chile and Argentina northwest to Mexico.[19] C. ficifolia is believed to have spread first from South America to the Malabar Coast of India in the 16th and 17th centuries before later reaching Europe. Some of its common names including Asian pumpkin, Malabar gourd, Siam squash, and Thai marrow reflect this route of dispersal to Europe.[3]


The fig-leaved gourd grows in temperate highlands at elevations up to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft).[20] It is often used as a grafting rootstock for other less resistant cucurbits. C. ficifolia can be propagated through planting seeds and by layering. Nodes can grow roots,[4] and can propagate new plants once cut.[citation needed] It is not resistant to severe frosts.[5][15]



Shell and flesh[edit]

The immature fruit is eaten cooked, while the mature fruit is sweet and used to make confectionaries and beverages,[21] sometimes alcoholic.[22] The fruit is low in beta-carotene, as can be seen from its white flesh, and is relatively low in vitamins and minerals, and moderately high in carbohydrates.[citation needed]

In Spain this squash is used to make a jam known as "cabello de ángel" (angel's hair), "cabell d'àngel" in Catalan, that is used to fill pies, sweets and confectionery. In Portugal, where the fruit is known as "chila" or "gila", the jam is known as "doce de gila", is used extensively in the production of traditional Portuguese sweets and confectionery.[23]

In Chile jam is often made out of the fruit. In Costa Rica, it is traditional to make empanadas stuffed with sugared filling at Easter time.

In Honduras, particularly in the city of Siguatepeque, it is cooked, and made into confectionary called alcitrón.

In Asia, the pulp strands are used to make soup, quite similar to shark fin soup, hence the name "shark's fin melon". The cultivation and this usage feature briefly in the film Grow Your Own.[citation needed]


The most nutritional part of Cucurbita ficifolia is its fat- and protein-rich seeds.Cilacayote seeds are used in Mexico to make palanquetas, a sweet similar to peanut brittle.[5]

Flowers, leaves, and shoots[edit]

The flowers, leaves and tender shoots are used in Mexico and other countries as greens.[5]


Across Asia, eating Cucurbita ficifolia is said to help people with diabetes. Several scientific studies have confirmed its hypoglycemic effect.[10] It is used effectively to treat diabetes due to its high D-Chiro-Inositol content.[24][21]

Animal feed[edit]

The vine and fruit are used for fodder.[citation needed] In Portugal, it has been used to feed pigs.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "A Working List of All Plant Species". theplantlist.org. The Plant List. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Cucurbita ficifolia - Bouché". Plants for a Future. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Bates, David M.; Robinson, Richard W. (2019-05-15). Biology and Utilization of the Cucurbitaceae. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-4544-7.
  4. ^ a b Lim, T. K. (2012), Lim, T. K. (ed.), "Cucurbita ficifolia", Edible Medicinal And Non-Medicinal Plants: Volume 2, Fruits, Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, pp. 250–255, doi:10.1007/978-94-007-1764-0_39, ISBN 978-94-007-1764-0, retrieved 2022-12-18
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Saade, R. Lira; Hernández, S. Montes. "Cucurbits". Purdue Horticulture. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Figleaf Gourd (Cucurbita ficifolia)". United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 2022-12-18.
  7. ^ Dąbrowska, Anna; Szołtysik, Marek; Babij, Konrad; Pokora, Marta; Zambrowicz, Aleksandra; Chrzanowska, Józefa (2013). "Application of Asian pumpkin (Cucurbita ficifolia) serine proteinase for production of biologically active peptides from casein". Acta Biochimica Polonica. 60 (1): 117–122. doi:10.18388/abp.2013_1960. ISSN 1734-154X. PMID 23520577.
  8. ^ Konrad, Babij; Anna, Dąbrowska; Marek, Szołtysik; Marta, Pokora; Aleksandra, Zambrowicz; Józefa, Chrzanowska (2014-12-01). "The Evaluation of Dipeptidyl Peptidase (DPP)-IV, α-Glucosidase and Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitory Activities of Whey Proteins Hydrolyzed with Serine Protease Isolated from Asian Pumpkin (Cucurbita ficifolia)". International Journal of Peptide Research and Therapeutics. 20 (4): 483–491. doi:10.1007/s10989-014-9413-0. ISSN 1573-3904. PMC 4210635. PMID 25364320.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Cucurbita ficifolia". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  10. ^ a b Acosta-Patiño, J.L.; Jiménez-Balderas, E.; Juárez-Oropeza, M.A.; Dı́Az-Zagoya, J.C. (2001). "Hypoglycemic action of Cucurbita ficifolia on Type 2 diabetic patients with moderately high blood glucose levels". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 77 (1): 99–101. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(01)00272-0. PMID 11483384.
  11. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  12. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Cucurbita ficifolia". The PLANTS Database (plants.usda.gov). Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ Greene, Stephanie L.; Williams, Karen A.; Khoury, Colin K.; Kantar, Michael B.; Marek, Laura F. (2019-03-14). North American Crop Wild Relatives, Volume 2: Important Species. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-97121-6.
  15. ^ a b c Nee, Michael (1990). "The Domestication of Cucurbita (Cucurbitaceae)". Economic Botany. 44 (3, Supplement: New Perspectives on the Origin and Evolution of New World Domesticated Plants). New York: New York Botanical Gardens Press: 56–68. doi:10.1007/BF02860475. JSTOR 4255271. S2CID 40493539.
  16. ^ "Neglected crops: 1492 from a different perspective (ch 10)". Archived from the original on 2019-02-11. Retrieved 2005-08-05.
  17. ^ Haugen, Jason D. (2009-07-27). "Borrowed Borrowings: Nahuatl Loan Words in English". Lexis. Journal in English Lexicology (3). doi:10.4000/lexis.638. ISSN 1951-6215.
  18. ^ Haugen, Jason D. (2009-07-27). "Borrowed Borrowings: Nahuatl Loan Words in English". Lexis. Journal in English Lexicology (3). doi:10.4000/lexis.638. ISSN 1951-6215.
  19. ^ Bisognin, Dilson Antônio (2002). "Origin and evolution of cultivated cucurbits". Ciência Rural. 32 (4): 715–723. CiteSeerX doi:10.1590/S0103-84782002000400028.
  20. ^ Ng, Timothy J. (1993). "New Opportunities in the Cucurbitaceae: New World Cucurbits". Purdue University. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  21. ^ a b Moya-Hernández, A.; Bosquez-Molina, E.; Serrato-Díaz, A.; Blancas-Flores, G.; Alarcón-Aguilar, F. J. (2018-05-01). "Analysis of genetic diversity of Cucurbita ficifolia Bouché from different regions of Mexico, using AFLP markers and study of its hypoglycemic effect in mice". South African Journal of Botany. 116: 110–115. doi:10.1016/j.sajb.2018.02.409. ISSN 0254-6299.
  22. ^ Salehi, Bahare; Sharifi-Rad, Javad; Capanoglu, Esra; Adrar, Nabil; Catalkaya, Gizem; Shaheen, Shabnum; Jaffer, Mehwish; Giri, Lalit; Suyal, Renu; Jugran, Arun K.; Calina, Daniela; Oana Docea, Anca; Kamiloglu, Senem; Kregiel, Dorota; Antolak, Hubert (January 2019). "Cucurbita Plants: From Farm to Industry". Applied Sciences. 9 (16): 3387. doi:10.3390/app9163387. hdl:10216/136247. ISSN 2076-3417.
  23. ^ Ortins, Ana Patuleia (20 October 2015). Authentic Portuguese Cooking: More Than 185 Classic Mediterranean-Style Recipes of the Azores, Madeira and Continental Portugal. Page Street Publishing. p. 213-214. ISBN 978-1-62414-195-9. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  24. ^ Xia, T; Wang, Q (2006). "D-chiro-inositol found in Cucurbita ficifolia (Cucurbitaceae) fruit extracts plays the hypoglycaemic role in streptozocin-diabetic rats". The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 58 (11): 1527–32. doi:10.1211/jpp.58.10.0014. PMID 17132216. S2CID 25816373.

External links[edit]

  • Acosta-Patiño, J.L.; Jiménez-Balderas, E.; Juárez-Oropeza, M.A.; Dı́Az-Zagoya, J.C. (2001). "Hypoglycemic action of Cucurbita ficifolia on Type 2 diabetic patients with moderately high blood glucose levels". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 77 (1): 99–101. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(01)00272-0. PMID 11483384.