Buffalo Gourd for Wildlife

Rock Squirrel eating Buffalo Gourd

During my recent visit to Albuquerque to speak at a conference, I got the opportunity to visit the Rio Grande Nature Center, which has a wonderful native plant  demonstration garden managed by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Earlier that morning, I had gone to the Albuquerque Botanic Garden because I was hoping to see some representative native plants of New Mexico, but those were in short supply. Fortunately, the Butterfly House provided the opportunity to get some good butterfly photos, and is a wonderful place to visit.

I discovered the Rio Grande Nature Center on my way to have lunch with my friend Linda Rockwell, and then some birding at Sandia Crest. After discovering the native plant demonstration garden, I went into the visitor center to speak with the ranger about being able to talk to the managers of this garden.

I was thrilled to receive a tour of this garden two days later by Claudia Crawford and Karen Davis, and while there I discovered a fascinating plant called Buffalogourd (Cucurbita foetidissima).

Buffalo Gourd Bloom

The first thing you notice with this plant is the large, striking yellow bloom–and the bees that come to visit.

Just as I asked Claudio if the gourds were edible, a Rock Squirrel stopped by to answer my question. The little squirrel happily sat and munched down a small gourd.

Rock Squirrel eating Buffalo Gourd

Buffalo Gourd is a low growing vine that thrives in arid conditions like the high desert.  It has a very deep and wide taproot and gorgeous yellow flowers that shine like a beacon to native bees and other pollinators.

Although it may be poisonous to cattle, when the cows step on the gourds and break them, the seeds become a much sought after food source for  quail and other birds.

Native Americans have been using this plant for over 6000 years, grinding the seeds into flour, and using the root for its medicinal properties and also for soap and shampoo.

Many thanks to Claudia Crawford and Karen Davis

Many thanks to Claudia Crawford and Karen Davis

Next time you’re in Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Nature Center is a must see!

Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.

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