BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Mini Puthenpura harvested a snake gourd from her garden earlier this month and thought it seemed exceptionally large – more than seven feet long.
For those who have never heard of such a fruit, it is a tropical or subtropical vine grown in India and other areas of Asia and Southeast Asia. It thrives in hot, humid weather – something Berkeley Heights enjoyed this summer – and its growing season ends when the temperature drops to 50.
When Mini’s son-in-law Vijay Yanamadala heard the gourd measured 89 inches, he agreed with Mini’s assessment, and went so far as to check out recent records, which included some snake gourds that grew up to 72 inches Long.
That prompted Mini’s daughter, Vidya, to suggest TapInto might be interested in the story, and if they were, there would then be a record of her mom’s super long squash.
Vijay sent an email with photos of the astounding gourd to TAPinto. A series of emails followed, and then it was time to stop by for an in-person view of Mini’s very large gourd and a tour of her backyard garden.
The garden is well-protected from deer and other critters by wire and plastic deer fencing and supported by a wooden trellis which extends along the sides and over the top of the raised-bed garden. Seeds for a wide variety of vegetables are planted at the foot of wood poles. The various vines climb the poles and attach themselves to the wire roof, while other plants, grow between the vines.
The gourds are easy to spot – the regular size gourds hang down from vines near the top of the garden and are no more than two-feet long, light green, and generally quite straight. The extra-long gourds live up to their name – they look like snakes as they twist and turn their way around the garden. They hang down for a few feet, then curl up towards the sun, then drop down for a few feet, until they curl up again. The gourds will rot if they touch the ground, so Mini uses heavy twine “to support the gourds as they grow,” she said while pointing out the path of two very long gourds which started in the center of the garden.
Mini said she first planted the garden 15 years ago, “I always liked gardening.” Planting her own garden meant she could grow Indian fruits and vegetables which, at the time, were not easy to find locally.
Her husband, Sarat, built the enclosure and “replaces the wood support poles every two to three years, as needed,” she said.
Along with the snake gourd plants, Mini also grows bitter melon, bell peppers, Thai chilies, cayenne pepper, okra, beans of all sorts, including long beans, tomatoes, and eggplant. On the deck, she also grows curry plants and a few other herbs. She said she uses everything she grows, from the curry leaves to the snake gourd, which tastes a bit like zucchini. It has a mild flavor and can be sautéed and eaten by itself or mixed in with other vegetables, she said.
If allowed to mature, the snake gourd’s skin grows hard and turns various colors, including red. Inside there is pulp which is red and soft and can be scraped out of the gourd. In some countries in Africa, the red pulp is used as a substitute for tomato.
Asked if she had a secret fertilizer that helps her grow large plants, she said, “No. I use cow manure, organic fertilizer and bone meal, which I bought at Hall’s Garden Center” in town.
Mini said this year she bought four snake gourd plants from Coppola Garden Center in South Plainfield. Three of those plants died, but the fourth did well and produced the 89-inch gourd. She also planted some seeds from gourds harvested the previous year, she said.
A bit of research on the gourd indicates one of the more remarkable features of the plant is its flower, which is open only one night. The white flower slowly unfurls, and as it does, its many white tentacles extend well beyond the main petals of the blossom. Along with being beautiful, the exudes a strong scent which helps attract its pollinators – moths.
As for whether the gourd will go into the record books, that’s still up in the air. There are longer gourds on record, in particular, a loofah – yes, the gourd that is turned into bath sponges – which stretched 4.55 meters, but as far as snake gourds goes, this looks to be a record-maker…except for two more, possibly three, that are still growing in her backyard.