The Snake Gourd, Wild, Exotic, And Tasty
There are a couple of different types of Snake gourd, one is grown strictly for its ornamental value, a common use for many types of gourds. The other, discussed here, is Trichosanthes cucumeria, exotic and entertaining to grow, while at the same time finding many uses in the kitchen.
A Sci-Fi Monster? - The Snake gourd is appropriately named. It can achieve lengths of up to 6 feet and grows from rapidly spreading vines. Just the right combination for a science fiction movie, except the only danger the snake gourd might present would be getting a stomach ache from eating too much of it. Most gourds we are familiar with are either inedible, or not particularly edible, and are used for decorations, and at times for vases, bowls, or utensils. The one gourd we do eat plenty of is the pumpkin, a member of the gourd family. The squash is also a close relative. There are over 700 species of gourd, each one having a seemingly stranger shape or pattern of colors than the next.
The Snake gourd isn't really all that new on the scene. It's been in the United States nearly as long as there's been a United States, or at least since Thomas Jefferson's time. He reportedly grew one of the varieties in his gardens in Monticello. It hasn't been a wildly popular plant though, primarily because of its tropical growing habits. Those plants that have been grown have been grown more out of curiosity than anything else. The plant makes a wonderful specimen for the hothouse or greenhouse, even though it may take up more than its fair share of room.
Eating Snake Gourds - Although the fruit grows on spreading, and rapidly growing vines, the vines are not allowed to spread along the ground, as one might do with cucumbers or squash, but are grown on trellises, as the fruit should not be allowed to come into contact with the ground. Because of the length of the mature fruit, the trellis arrangement must be 6 feet or more above the ground. As far as eating is concerned, this gourd has a taste somewhat similar to that of the cucumber. In fact, while the snake gourd can be prepared a number of ways, and used in a number of dishes, the young fruit makes a very good pickle. It might be possible to attempt to make a 6 foot pickle (world's longest?), but the fruit, once ripe, is mushy and generally inedible, and the same would probably hold true for the large pickle. For cooking, or pickling, the unripe fruit, about 6 inches in length, is what is harvested.
Planting From Seed - If you live in an area where the Snake gourd can be grown successfully, or have a greenhouse, the plant is grown from seed. There are several varieties on the market, but the seeds of all varieties are both slow to germinate, and have a rather low germination rate of around 50 percent. This is because the seeds have very hard shell. The germination rate can be improved upon by cutting or scratching the skin of the seeds. Still, it's a good idea to plant a few extra seeds to make certain you get at least one plant to grow. The seeds of a young, edible Snake gourd fruit, are immature, if present at all, and not suitable for planting.
Available Varieties - The Snake Gourd's blossoms bloom at night and require insects for pollination. In their native habitat, India, a certain type of moth performs this duty, although other insects will do the job. The blossoms can be pollinated manually if need be. Seeds are available in the United States. The more popular varieties are the very productive Long EX, and the Hybrid White Glory, one of the easiest to grow. Though edible when immature, the fruits of the Extra Long Dancer variety are often grown because of their very long, and somewhat unique fruit. The Hybrid Snaky is yet another very prolific producer.