Telforia Occidentalis is a drought-tolerant, dioecious perennial crop that is indigenous to Southern part of Nigeria and it does belong to the family of Cucurbitaceae. It is widely grown in many nations of West Africa, but is mainly cultivated in Nigeria, for its highly nutritious leaves which is used primarily in soups and herbal medicines. Common names for the plant are fluted gourd, fluted pumpkin and ugu. The fruits are not edible but seeds produced by the gourd are high in protein and fat meaning that they can be included in the dishes to make a well-balanced diet.
T. Occidentalis is estimated to be consumed by 30 to 35 million people in Nigeria with a larger percentage of the plant been consumed in the South East of Nigeria. It is noted to have healing properties and it has been used as a form of blood tonic, to be administered to anemic patients.
T Occidentalis is majorly a dioecious flowering plant, which means that, it produces separate male and female parts on different plants, with very few documented cases of monoecious (both male and female parts in the same plant) flowering. The plant is large ranging in size from 16 to 105 cm in length with an average diameter of 9cm. The seed count in the fluted gourd can be up to 196 and above per gourd, typically 3.4 to 4.9cm in length for both pistillate and staminate varieties. Fluted pumpkin flowers grow in sets of five showing a creamy-white and dark red petal unlike the light green colour of the young fruit and yellow colour when ripe.
Fluted Pumpkin as food
Fluted pumpkin young shoots leaves are one of the main ingredients of some Nigerian soups, Ofe Egusi and sometimes prepared with wild mango seed (Ogbono or Apon).
Egusi soup made with fluted pumpkin
Ogbono soup made with fluted pumpkin
The large dark-red seed is rich in protein and fat which can be eaten whole, ground into a powdery form to be used for certain kind of soup or made into a fermented porridge as the case may be.The fluted pumpkin is also considered as oilseed due to its high oil content of about 30%. The shoots contain high levels of potassium and iron while the seeds are made up of 27% crude proteins and 53% fat.
Benefits of Fluted Pumpkin
Propagation and Planting
T. Occidentalis’ growing period begins in April or May, it is a fairly drought resistant, vine grown plant which can be grown on a wide range of soil. The seeds are viviparous (germinating in the fruit) and due to the recalcitrant nature of the seeds it can only be stored for a maximum of 3 days after extraction from the fruit. The critical moisture content below which the seeds cannot recover from desiccation is 40 to 60%. It can be intercropped with other food and vegetable crops such as yam, maize and cassava, or it can be planted against fence or bamboo stakes can be prepared for it. It is propagated by seeds sown directly into the soil typically in groups of 3 to increase output in a case of failed germination or at the rate of 30, 000 to 70,000 seeds/Ha with a spacing of 0.3-1m x 0.3-1m. For fruit production wider spacing is required when using stakes while densely spaced stand are best for leaf production.
Staking can be carried out during rainy season to prevent disease infection; the plant can be stacked individually with bamboo trellis especially for fruit production. It can be planted without staking during the dry season for leaf production as disease attack is not that prevalent during this period and it should be noted that staking has no significance on the leaf yield. During the dry season, weeding can be done twice before the plant’s leaf canopy is fully developed to smother the weeds by itself, while three times weeding may be required in staked crop during rainy season. The first pruning can be done 4 weeks after emergence to increase growth and stimulation of branching. Watering is done once every 3 days. Organic manure or inorganic fertilizers are used in traditional systems, but for an optimal leaf yield the recommended fertilizer application is 100 kg K2O and 50 kg P2O5 per ha. Female plants are more vigorous than male ones and produce higher vegetative yields. A high proportion of female plants by removal of a part of the male plant is desirable for high leaf and fruit yields.
Pests and Diseases
The common pests of fluted pumpkin are Grasshoppers which feed on the foliage and stems, Leaf and Flower Beetles which feed on the leaves, White Beetle feeds on the fruits and flowers, Aphids hinder growth by feeding on the stem, Thrips which causes flower abortion and Green Shield Bug feeds on leaves, stems and fruits.
White leaf spot disease, caused by Phoma sorghina, reduces the leaf lamina. It also affects the seed. It is controlled by spraying with Dithane M-45 at a concentration of 500 ppm twice a week. Erwinia aroideae causes soft rot of the leaves with yellowish ooze; it also affects the fruits. A prevalent virus disease is Telfairia Mosaic virus (TeMV), causing mottling of the leaves and low leaf yield; it also causes chlorosis, stunting and abnormal fruit development. It is transmitted by the Aphid (Aphis spiraecola) via the seed. The storage diseases of fluted pumpkin, (diseases that affect the seeds during storage) are Rhizopus stolonifer, Aspergillus niger, Botryodiplodia theobromae and Erwinia spp. It was recorded that in the long term storage fungi is capable of causing 95% loss in storage while bacteria can cause only 5% loss.
The harvesting of the first leaves and shoots begins a month after planting and subsequent harvesting can be at 2-4 weeks interval. The fruits are harvested 9 weeks after fruit sets and this is usually harvested between October and December. The harvesting is by pruning, that is cutting below the lowest acceptable leave.
Fresh shoot yield can be as high as 500-1000 kg/ha and can also be as high as 3-10t/ha depending on the management system. The seed yield can be up to 1.9 t/ha derived from 3000 fruits.
The harvested leaves maintain its freshness for just a day but they can be stored in jute bags for 3 days in an airy place but they lose turgidity and become limp. The fresh shoots are usually sold wholesale to the traders, who retail them in bundles. The large bundles are usually wrapped with plantain leaves or covered loosely with old jute bags for transportation and sparingly watered to preserve it freshness. The fruit can be stored in open shades for a period of 1-2 months and they are graded according to size (small, medium and large). In the market they are arranged in heaps and sold as heaps or singly. The seed are left in the fruits until they are ready to be used for planting or consumption.