An odd California native grows just inside the Euclid entrance to the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve in Fullerton. Right now, in June, it’s a large, sprawling vine with big yellow blossoms and small round melons that you might expect to find in a vegetable garden. Cucurbita foetidissima (coyote melon, coyote ear, buffalo gourd, stinking melon, calabazilla, or chilicote) looks like a melon plant, but it grows wild in dry land that would wither its cultivated relatives.
According to James Cunkle of the White Mountain Archeological Center, It was cultivated thousands of years ago. The seeds are nutritious, but Cunkle lists several other possible uses for the fruit: The flesh makes a laundry whitener, the juice was used to wean babies (Cunkle says, “This stuff could discourage anyone from anything”), and the dried gourds can be used as containers and rattles. The flesh also has medicinal uses.
There are several references in scholarly journals from the seventies and eighties to research on new uses for the plant as a feed crop for animals or as a source of oil that could be used as fuel, the primary advantage of the plant being its suitability in dry climates.
Today the gourds are used as a medium for decoration. They can be displayed as-is or painted, carved or etched. One town in Arizona holds a coyote melon festival every fall, and the plant has inspired at least one song.
They’re for sale online at the Las Pilitas Nursery, but beware! They’re called “foetidissima” for a reason — they smell like sweaty armpits!
If you prefer, you can just visit the plant here:
Here’s what the entrance to the preserve looks like:
Coyote melon links:
The Ancient Gift of Gourds, an excellent article by writer Jan Cleere
Nature writer Chris Clark gives a hypothesized history of the evolution of squashes in America from natives like the Cucurbita foetidissima:
What’s Owed to Those Who Have Gone Before.
Click the photo to see more decorated coyote gourds: