This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in the December 1952 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
An interesting tree found growing in some of the old established gardens of Bermuda is the Calabash. It is a native of the West Indies and South America, from where it was obviously introduced to this Colony. There is no record of its introduction to these Islands, but there seems to be little doubt that it has been here for well over one hundred years.
Some authorities regard the tree as evergreen. This is probably quite true in the West Indies, and the tree may even hold its leaves the year round in very sheltered locations in Bermuda, but most of the trees observed by the writer are leafless during the months of January, February and March.
The Calabash grows to about twenty-five feet high with long branches having a somewhat pendulous habit. The arrangement of the leaves is interesting, for they are in clusters or tufts, each leaf being from four to six inches long. It is probably this leaf arrangement which makes the tree outstanding, for having once seen a Calabash tree it is easily recognised a second time. Of greater spectacular interest are the fruits of this tree. Following the greenish-white, bell-shaped flowers, which are borne directly on the main branches, are large globular or oval-shaped fruits. When fully developed these fruits are approximately the size of a musk-melon or possibly a little larger, about ten inches in diameter. They are green at first, perfectly smooth, eventually turning brown. The rind of the fruit is very hard and due to this fact the fruits are put to a variety of uses. One of the main uses of the Calabash fruit in Bermuda is for bailing out boats. These receptacles are known as “coakers.” They are made by cutting the fruit in half and removing the pulp. These utensils were also used as scoops to dip the horse and cattle feed out of the barrels and as water dippers in the making of arrowroot starch, an industry of our Colonial past. To bird-lovers it is of interest to mention that the Calabash fruits are often nesting places for the blue bird. A small hole is made in the centre of the rind and the pulp scooped out. This shell is then fixed on to a small wooden frame and attached to a tree or placed on the side of the house. Blue birds are very fond of this type of nesting place and will come back year after year to rear their young ones in the shell of a Calabash fruit. It is not suggested that the Blue Bird is only attracted to a Calabash fruit, since they will make their homes just as readily in small bird houses made of wood.
The bark of this tree is soft and spongy. Although the wood is also soft, it is tough and flexible. In the West Indies blocks of this wood are frequently used in the growing of orchids. The orchid plants are attached to these blocks which form a very good anchorage for the plant.
To the botanist the Calabash is known as Crescentia Cujete. It belongs to the same family as the “White Cedar,” the “Sausage Tree” and the “Cape Trumpet Flower.” More of this species could with advantage be planted in Bermuda since it appears to be quite well adapted to the climatic conditions of these Islands. The trees provide good shade during the summer months and when planted in reasonably deep soil growth is comparatively rapid. New trees are easily grown from seed or cuttings. As there is no difficulty in obtaining seed and as germination is quick, this is regarded as the easiest method of propagation.