Bottle Gourd

I did not know that the bottle gourd was the first domesticated plant in the Americas, 10,000 years ago. (If you’d asked me, I would have guessed maize. Wrong.)

It’s what archaeologists call a “utility species” – domesticated not for food but for non-edible usefulness. (Dogs also qualify as a “utility species.”) Bottle gourd was good for making containers before the development of ceramics.

It’s always been a bit of a mystery as to how bottle gourd, a native of Africa, got here, but a new paper this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy offers up evidence suggesting early immigrants must have brought it with them from Asia. David Erickson and colleagues matched up the DNA of bottle gourd found at archaeological sites in North and South America with its Asian and African relatives to dry the necessary lines on the map.