Benincasa hispida
Common Name: wax gourd 
Type: Annual
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Native Range: Indomalaya
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 0.75 to 1.50 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to July
Bloom Description: Golden yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Annual, Vegetable
Flower: Showy
Fruit: Showy, Edible

Culture

This annual vine can easily be grown from seed. It is best grown in fertile, organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained loams in full sun. Seeds may be planted outdoors when soil temperatures have risen to at least 65 degrees F., typically around the date of last spring frost. Plant several seeds together in each planting site (seed hill) and thin later. Seed can also be started indoors about 3 weeks before the last spring frost date, with young plants set out after last frost date. Space young plants about 2' apart when growing upright or 5-6' apart when growing along the ground. If allowed to climb, this vine will need a strong trellis or other support. Immature young fruit can be picked for immediate use. Mature fruit needs a good wax coating to insure long storage time. Heavy fruits on upright stems may need net support. Store mature fruits on shelves or suspended in nets in cool (55-59 degree F.) and dry conditions for 3-6 months (sometimes as long as one year if properly stored).

Noteworthy Characteristics

Benincasa hispida, commonly called wax gourd or fuzzy gourd, is native to Southeast Asia. It is an annual creeping vine with branched tendrils that will climb structures (with some support), cover fences or sprawl along the ground. Although it has some ornamental value, it is primarily grown as a food plant. Coarse, prominently-furrowed, thick, hairy stems are clad with large, roughly-textured, 5-lobed leaves (4-10" long). Golden yellow flowers (to 3 1/2" wide) form in the leaf axils in early summer. Female flowers are followed by oblong to nearly spherical melon-like fruits which vary in appearance and uses depending on growth stage. Young fruits are often commonly called fuzzy gourd (particularly B. hispida var. chieh-qua) because they are covered with a soft down which eventually disappears as the fruits mature. White flesh is crisp and juicy. Young fruits are perishable (should be eaten within a week of being picked) and are typically used somewhat the same way as summer squash. They may be peeled, shredded or cut into chunks for baking, sauteeing or adding to soups. Mature fruits are commonly called winter melons because of the waxy coating which protects the fruit and allows for long-term storage. Winter melons typically range in size from 5-20 pounds in rounded shapes (to 12" diameter) or in cylindrical shapes (to 15" long), but in ideal conditions may grow much larger (to 25-50 pounds and to 4-6' long). Culinary uses for winter melons include boil as a vegetable, stuff-and-bake or add to soups.

Genus name honors 16th century Italian botanist Giuseppe Benincasa (1535-1596), Italian botanist who founded the Botanic Garden in Pisa.

Specific epithet from Latin means rough-hairy in reference to the pubescence found on the foliage and young fruits.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Blossom end rot, fusarium wilt, bacterial wilt, downy mildew and powdery mildew may appear. Potential insect pests include aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, stink bugs, cutworms, pickleworm and squash vine boreres. Watch for mites.

Garden Uses

Harvest gourds for culinary use or grow as an ornamental vine. Scoup out insides and use shell as a soup receptacle.