Generally fast-growing perennials, occasionally herbaceous annuals, rarely woody climbers and trailers with a fleshy rootstock. The tissues are mostly juicy and plants have coiled, often branched tendrils, one at each leaf base. Leaves alternate, mostly palmately veined and lobed, often rough; stipules absent. Flowers unisexual with both sexes on the same or different plants, occasionally bisexual, mostly regular, the parts inserted on an expanded receptacle, axillary, solitary to many. Sepals and petals mostly 5, free or fused, joining edge to edge in bud, yellow or white. Stamens mostly 5, alternate with the petals and variously fused or reduced. Ovary inferior with 1-several chambers; ovule placentation mostly parietal. Fruit a berry (pepo) or occasionally capsule, sometimes winged like a samara; seeds 1-many, large, flat, occasionally winged.
Commercially important food family, especially in the tropics. Vegetables include: pumpkins, squashes, gourds, marrows, zucchini (courgettes), vegetable spaghetti. Fruits include: melons, canteloupe, gherkin, calabash, cayote, cucumber. Oils are extracted from the seeds, the luffa sponge is the dried remains of Luffa cylindrica, and there are various medicinal extracts. The red-fleshed Watermelon, grown in the tropics and shipped to cooler areas, is Citrullus lanatus. Tropical ornamental gourds mostly belong to the genus Lagenaria and L. siceraria Gourds are used as containers and other utensils.
Mostly tendril-climbing fleshy herbs with palmately veined leaves and large succulent fruits (sometimes known as a pepo) developing from the inferior ovary of yellow female flowers.
121 genera, 735 species mostly of the tropics and subtropics, a few temperate and semi-desert (Australia has 13 genera with 35 species native).
Whitaker (1962), Jeffrey (1980), Telford (1982).
Source: (1997). Cucurbitaceae. In: . Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 2. Flowering plants. Dicotyledons. Part 1. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.