October 22, 2016
Coyote Melon may be recognized by its rough, stiff-haired stems and large, palmate shaped leaves sprawling over sandy areas or climbing via tendrils into surrounding vegetation. It may also be easily distinguished by its three-inch, dull green, spheroid gourds with pale yellow vertical stripes. As the gourds mature they become straw colored.
The pulp within the fruit is unpalatable, but was utilized by native people and during the depression, for soap. Clothing laundered with the soap reportedly helps to repel body lice.
The seeds are edible, unlike the pulp, and contain value as a source of protein (31%), and cooking oil (30%). The dried gourds have been used as rattles and containers. After the plant has gone to fruit, the stems dry up and wither away, later to re-sprout from the tuberous root once sufficient rains return.
From Irvine Ranch Conservancy:
In addition to being a tasty bite for coyotes, there are a few theories on how the plant acquired the common name of “coyote melon.” One story is that coyotes wanted to keep the sweet fruit for themselves, so they would urinate on the plants to keep other animals away. Another story is that the leaves of the plant look like coyote ears, and the yellow ripened gourds look like coyote’s glowing eyes. Some say that since the flesh of the melon is sweet and the center toxic, that the fruit is tricky, like a coyote.
The flowers are similar to those of pumpkins, squashes and other members of the cucumber family, but the foul odor and extremely bitter taste of the coyote melon makes it inedible to humans. However, as the other common name implies, animals such as the coyote do eat the plant’s melons.
Although the flowers are said to have a sweet, pleasant smell, the leaves are what gives the “stink” to this gourd. The leaves have a strong, unusually repulsive smell, often described as similar to that of human body odor. Some plants are smellier than others, and occasionally some lack the odor altogether, but when a hiker smells something foul along the trail, they’ll probably see the spreading vines of the coyote melon on the ground.
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