CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis

Jon Shaw

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis

Common Name: 
Okeechobee gourd
(Small) Bailey
Growth Habit: 
Vine, Forb/herb
CPC Number: 


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 Fish & WildLife

Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensisenlarge
Photographer: Jon Shaw

Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
S.K. Maddox and Race, Tammera contributed to this Plant Profile.

Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis

Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis (Okeechobee Gourd) is a wetland gourd, growing fairly commonly as a vine in the bottomlands of the St. John's River and the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It grew and reproduced in perfect synch with the natural hydrologic cycle of its habitat. Gourd seeds probably germinated during the dry season, when lower water levels exposed rich swampy soils. Over the summer, the heart-shaped leaves and cream-colored flowers covered the pond apple trees, which were natural trellises for wild gourds. The vines continued to climb during the wet season. Protected above the rising water level, the flowers developed into orange-sized gourds, light green with faint stripes. These gourds contained the seeds for future generations. The vines dried, and the gourds fell to the water below. The gourds floated on the receding waters of the winter dry season, until they came to rest on exposed soil. And the cycle started again.

As of 1930, at least 95% of the pond apple forests where this species once commonly occurred had been destroyed for agriculture and water-level regulation. This species is now found only in two disjunct populations, threatened with continued water-level regulation practices and invasion of its habitat by non-native invasive species. (USFWS 1999) While this species of gourd is not edible, it is particularly important to study it and maintain it in the wild, as it is resistant to many of the diseases that affect economically important crops, including the cucumber mosaic virus, powdery mildew, and squash mosaic virus.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis
  Okeechobee gourd was originally found in swampy forests and hammocks on mucky soils (USFWS 1999). Today, these gourds are found in pond apple swamps and mucky soils on Lake Okeechobee shores and islands, and in floodplain forests along the St. Johns River (FNAI 2000). The gourd seems to need some type of natural trellis to climb on, as it grows best where competition is reduced. It is often found growing on elderberry and buttonbush. For the gourd to maintain healthy populations, fluctuations in the lake levels are necessary. Gourds have been observed growing in mowed powerline and road right-of-ways (USFWS 1999).

  This Florida endemic has recently been found to be restricted to nine sites along the middle of St. Johns River in Volusia County and around Lake Okeechobee in Glades and Palm Beach counties (USFWS 1999).

Number Left
  Okeechobee gourd is now known from only a few sites around Lake Okeechobee and along the St. Johns River, where populations seems to be declining (FNAI 2000).


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Florida S1 LE 4/1/1998  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Okeechobee gourd is usually associated with pond apple trees on which it climbs, and alligator nests which provide suitably elevated soil berms in full sun, with no competition from other plants. Pieces of gourds have been found in rabbit nests, suggesting that the rabbits feed on and possibly disperse the seeds. The Okeechobee gourd is dependent on the fluctuating water levels of Lake Okeechobee, with seeds germinating and sprouting during the low water levels (USFWS 1999).

Flowers open at dawn, but specific pollinators haven't been identified. Likely pollinators include bees, flies, and squash beetles. Preliminary information indicates that pollination may be a problem for the species, especially in smaller populations. In one collection, hand-pollination is necessary to ensure viable seed-set. (USFWS 1999)

The fruit of this species, a gourd, is very bitter and potentially poisonous, and so is not used for food. However, its seeds are edible and nutritious, and the flesh of the gourd can be used as a soap. It is also thought that the outer part of the gourd was historically used as a ball, rattle, or ceremonial cup. (Race, Okeechobee Gourd; USFWS 1999)

  Conversion of swamp forests to agriculture.
Water level management in Lake Okeechobee.
Proliferation of exotic plant species, particularly Melaleuca.
(FNAI 2000)

Current Research Summary
  Walters and Walters have studied the taxonomy and systematic relationships of this species (1991, 1992 & 1993)
Bok Tower Gardens has successfully propagated the species. (unknown 1989)

Current Management Summary
  Management for this species is non-existent, aside from regulation of collecting and interstate trade (USFWS 1999).

Research Management Needs
  Monitor and regulate water levels in Lake Okeechobee.
Restore pond apple swamps around the lake.
Use herbicides carefully to control exotic species in the lake; avoid aerial spraying.
Maintain hydrology of Florida's rivers.
Survey for more populations.
Research biology of species.
(FNAI 2000; USFWS 1999)

Ex Situ Needs
  Conserve germ plasm


Books (Single Authors)

Coile, N.C. 2000. Notes on Florida's Regulated Plant Index (Rule 5B-40), Botany Contribution 38. Gainesville, Florida: Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry.

FNAI. 2000. Field Guide to the Rare Plants and Animals of Florida online. Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

Long, R.W.; Lakela, O. 1976. A Flora of Tropical Florida: A Manual of the Seed Plants and Ferns of Southern Peninsular Florida. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press. 962p.

Radford, A.E.; Ahles, H.E.; Bell, C.R. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 1183p.

Ward, D.B. 1979. Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida Volume 5: Plants. Gainseville, FL: University Presses of Florida.

Wunderlin, R.P. 1998. Guide to the vascular plants of Florida. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. 806p.

Books (Sections)

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Electronic Sources

(2002). Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. [Web site] University of South Florida Institute for Systematic Botany. http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu/isb/default.htm. Accessed: 2008.

NatureServe. (2008). NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. [Internet].Version 7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. Accessed: (June 17, 2008).

Journal Articles

Andres, T.C.; Nabhan, G. 1988. Taxonomic rank and rarity of Cucurbita okeechobeensis. FAO Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter. 75/76: 21-22.

Pitrat, M.; De Vaulx, R.D. 1979. Powdery mildew cucumber mosaic virus and watermelon mosaic virus resistance in the genus Cucurbita. Annales de L'Amelioration des Plantes. 29, 4: 439-446.

Race, T.. Okeechobee Gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis). The Bok Tower Gardens Newsletter. page 10.

Small, J.K. 1930. The Okeechobee gourd. Journal of New York Botanical Garden. 31: 10-14.

unknown. 1989. Endangered Gourd Thrives at Bok Tower Gardens. Plant Conservation. 4, 3

USFWS. 1992. Proposed endangered status for the a Florida plant, Okeechobee gourd. Federal Register. 57, 98: 21381-21384.

USFWS. 1993. Endangered or threatened status for five Florida plants. Federal Register. 58, 131: 37432-37444.

Walters, T.; Decker-Walters, D.S. 1992. In Search of the Elusive and Endangered Okeechobee Gourd. Plant Conservation. 7, 1: 2, 7.

Walters, T.; Decker-Walters, D.S.; Katz, S. 1992. Seeking the Elusive Okeechobee Gourd. Fairchild Tropical Garden Bulletin. 22-30.

Walters, T.W.; Decker-Walters, D.S. 1993. Systematics of the endangered Okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis: Cucurbitaceae). Systematic Botany. 18: 175-187.

Ward, D.B.; Minno, M.C. 2002. Rediscovery of the endangered okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis) along the St. Johns River, Florida, where last reported by William Bartram in 1774. Castanea. 67, 2: 201-206.

Newspaper Articles

Klinkenberg, Jeff. 1993 Sunday, November 28. Seeds of Doubt. St. Petersburg Times; St. Petersburg, FL. F. p1F.

Rozsa, Lori. 1992 Sunday, September 20. Lake defenders pin their hopes on lowly gourd. The Miami Herald; Miami, FL. B. P8.


Kral, R. 1983. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. Athens, GA: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service. p.1305. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technical.

Minno, M.C. 1997. Phenology, pollination, and distribution of the Okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis) along the St. Johns River, Florida. Jacksonville, Florida: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Minno, M.C.; Minno, M. 1995. Status and habitat requirements of the endangered Okeechobee gourd along the middle St. Johns River, Florida. Jacksonville, Florida: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Saretsky, Sosha H. 1996. Annotated Bibliography for Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis. New College of USF for Bok Tower Gardens.

USFWS. 1999. South Florida Multi-species Recovery Plan. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region.

Walters, T.; Walters, D.S. Decker. 1991. Assessment of the Taxonomy and Systematic Relationships of the Endangered Okeechobee Gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis). From the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami, FL to the Integrated Conservation Projects Fund, Center for Plant Conservation in St. Louis MO.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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