The Gourd Tree (Crescentia alata, Crescentia cujete, Calabash Tree, etc)

Whatever you choose to call it, this tree is a winner.

My particular source calls this tree Crescentia alata, the Gourd Tree.  Native to southern Mexico and Central America, it does not handle hard frosts.  That unfortunately rules out a space in the ground in my garden.  Fortunately, it may prove to be a good bonsai candidate.  Earlier this year [see this post] I germinated some GT seeds.  I laid out several seeds on a coffee filter that I misted with distilled water and hydrogen peroxide.  I then folded the filter in half to completely cover all the seeds, and stuck the whole thing in a sealed Ziploc bag directly under fluorescent strip lights.  They got some serious light, being only two inches or so away from the bulbs.  I think that helped though.

Even with the hydrogen peroxide mixed into the water, I did get some mold after about a week.  I didn’t worry though; I just sprayed the inside of the bag with more water/peroxide mix.  Much to my surprise, the coffee filter did tend to dry out after a few days despite being inside a sealed plastic bag.  After about 2 weeks I noticed the tips of the seeds opening up and a tiny taproot peeking out.  At that point I removed the germinating seeds from the bag and filter (carefully!) and laid them flat on moist compost with the taproot facing down.  The seeds were then covered with about 1/4 inch of moist compost.  After about another week the tops of the new GTs could be seen poking out of the compost.

All in all, germination was excellent using this method.  Out of 20 seeds, almost all germinated.  The longest time before leaves appeared above the compost and after removal from the coffee filter was around 3 weeks, but most had popped up in less than 2 weeks.

These are the GTs in early February of this year.

Here they are around the first of April.

Here is what the GTs look like today, after five months of growth under t5 strip lights and some thinning. There was a period of a few weeks somewhere in there that they languished and complained about a thrip infestation.  A little Bayer bug spray and they perked right up and started growing faster than ever.  It’s amazing what a plant will do when it’s happy.

The leaves of this tree are unique.  I’m going to follow that sentence by describing how similar the leaves are to another kind of tree… ha!  They remind me of larger versions of the Hardy or Trifoliate Orange, of the Poncirus genus.  The leaves are semi waxy looking, but not as much as the orange tree.  The leaves are long and thin, and up close have a very different and tropical look to them.  They almost don’t look like tree leaves.  But maybe that’s just me, being fascinated by them.

Another reason (I think…) that I may be fascinated by them is that I’ve seen them growing in their native habitat before!  I knew there was a reason I was drawn to buy some seeds.  A few years ago I was in Costa Rica, visiting Corcovado National Park.  That is a completely different story for a whole different blog post, but I digress.  Right outside the little hostel and backpacker’s camp that I was staying at was a large tree that was completely covered in other plants.  Countless bromeliads, orchids, ferns, and who knows what had been growing on the trunk and branches of this tree for years.  I took a picture of it, being the plant geek that I am.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see the large, smooth, green gourds that seem to be growing out of the most inappropriate places; the trunk and lower branches!

Of all the trees in Costa Rica (and I did see a lot of them), this one was one of the most interesting.  The very odd gourds, the sheer variety of life calling it home, and the novelty of it’s looks must have made an impression on me.  What are the odds that I ended up finding seeds without even realizing it?  Apparently pretty good.

I just returned home from another trip to a warmer locale, which hopefully explains my lack of posts.  Or at least attempts to.  Photos and plant-y goodness about that on a future post!

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