The bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), an early-domesticated plant, was eaten and used to craft water containers. Native to Africa, the gourd was grown in Asia, Europe, and the Americas long before Columbus arrived. Scholars asked how the gourd reached America: Was it wild or domesticated when it arrived? Comparing DNA of ancient bottle gourds with modern Asian and African varieties, the Smithsonian’s David Erickson and collaborators concluded that Paleoindians brought gourds from Asia to the Americas about 10,000 years ago. Yet, a 2014 study of gourds’ chloroplast DNA indicates an African source. Still questions remain: How did the gourds reach Asia? And why are there few wild varieties?
Did you know? Among its many reported cultural uses, the gourds can be dried and used to smoke pipe tobacco.