Cucurbitaceae (Cucumber family)

Description. Annual, herbaceous, 2-4 m (6-13 ft) tall, climbing with tendrils. Alternate, deeply lobed leaves 15-20 cm (6-8 in) long and 10-15 cm (4-6 in) wide. Small, yellow flowers monoecious. Male flowers in small racemes and female flowers solitary in axils of leaves. Light green fruits ovoid to elliptical, 4 to 5 cm (1.6-2 in) long, covered with long, soft spines. Fruits often strongly curved. When ripe, fruits burst open and expel the small, black seeds.

Origin and Distribution. Native to warm and temperate humid regions from Mexico to Ecuador. Grows at elevations from 800 to 3,500 m (2,600- 11,500 ft). The plant is cultivated in home gardens in Central America and in the Andean region of South America. Often escapes from cultivation.

Food uses. Fully grown but still immature fruits are eaten raw in salads; they are also boiled, steamed, or fried as a vegetable. Young shoots and leaves are also eaten as a vegetable. Fruits are sometimes pickled.

Comments. C. pedata (caihua), a closely related species that is native to the Andean region from Colombia to Bolivia, is cultivated for its edible fruits. This species has longer, pale green fruits and a smooth skin. It is used as a vegetable similar to cuchinito. Seeded fruits of this plant are often stuffed with, rice, meat or vegetables.

Description. Small, evergreen, multistemmed tree, 6-12 m (20-40 ft) tall. Evergreen, alternate, compound leaves with 2 asymmetrical leaflets, each 5-15 cm (2-6 in) long. Small, hermaphroditic, pinkish-white flowers are produced in dense inflorescences on the trunk and thick branches. Olive-green to greenish-yellow kidney-shaped fruits 5-10 cm (2-4 in) long by 3-6 cm (1.2-2.4 in) wide. Indehiscent fruits with irregular, rough surface and yellow-green, crisp, juicy flesh, containing one brown kidney-shaped seed. Ripe fruits have an applelike consistency and an aromatic, sweet to subacid taste. Origin and Distribution. Native to the Malay Peninsula. Occasionally cultivated in Southeast Asia and India as a dooryard fruit tree. Very rare elsewhere in the tropics. The tree is adapted to a tropical monsoon climate with high precipitation and a short dry season.

Food uses. Ripe fruits are eaten out of hand or boiled to prepare chutneys, preserves, and pickles. They are cooked with sugar to make sweets and desserts. Slightly underripe, sour-tasting fruits are used in savory foods like curries and meat dishes. In certain regions of Southeast Asia, namnam fruits are used in the preparation of sambal, a spicy, chili-based sauce.

Comments. New flushes of bright pink leaves and a cauliflorous fruiting habit make the tree an attractive and exotic ornamental. In tropical Asia, the fruits are used in herbal folk medicine. The seed oil is believed to help cure skin diseases.



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