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Telfairia occidentalis Hook.f.

 Oliv., Fl. trop. Afr. 2: 524 (1871).
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Chromosome number  
 2n = 22, 24
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Vernacular names  
 Fluted pumpkin, fluted gourd (En). Courge cannelée (Fr).
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Origin and geographic distribution  
 Fluted pumpkin occurs in the forest zone of West and Central Africa, most frequently in Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. It is a popular vegetable all over Nigeria. It is rare in Uganda, and absent in the rest of East Africa. It has been suggested that it originated in south-east Nigeria and was distributed by the Igbos, who have cultivated this crop since time immemorial. It is, however, equally possible that fluted pumpkin was originally wild throughout its current range, but that wild plants have been harvested to local extinction and are now replaced by cultivated forms.
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 The main use of Telfairia occidentalis is as a leaf and seed vegetable. The tender shoots, succulent leaves and immature seeds are cooked and consumed as a vegetable. The leaves are used alone or together with okra (Abelmoschus caillei (A.Chev.) Stevels and Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench), dika nut (Irvingia gabonensis (Aubry-Lecomte ex O’Rorke) Baill.), or egusi seeds (Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai and other species). They can also be mixed with eru (Gnetum africanum Welw.) and Pterocarpus soyauxii Taub. They are often cooked with fish, meat and tapioca. Immature seeds are cooked or roasted. Seeds can also be fermented for several days and eaten as a slurry. The fruit pulp with young seeds is occasionally made into marmalade. Mature seeds are not consumed directly because they have a high content of antinutrients, but their fat and oil may be extracted. The seed cake is suitable for fortifying foods and the seed oil serves as cooking oil and for making margarine. The oil can also be used as drying oil for paints and varnishes, although it is also reported to be non-drying. The raw flour shows better water- and fat absorption properties than the oil, hence its useful application in baking products and ground-meat products. The rind and pulp of the fruit of fluted pumpkin are used as fodder for livestock. Pregnant women and patients suffering from anaemia use leaf juice to strengthen the blood. The stems are macerated to produce fibres that are used as a sponge.
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Production and international trade  
 Fluted pumpkin leaves are common in the markets of lowland areas in Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. During the dry season in Nigeria intensive trade develops in areas along river banks for sale to urban areas where major food-crop markets develop. In Nigeria the leaves are also transported by road from the south over a long distance to the big cities in the north. The cultivation of fluted pumpkin is developing around cities as a way of reducing the high transportation costs. No statistical data are available on the total production. In Nigeria demand from different parts of the country has raised the price of the leaves and fruits. The average price per fruit in Nigeria is US$ 0.70–1.00 (2002).
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 The moisture content and composition of the leaves show large variations as a function of cultivar, plant age, ecological conditions and cultural practices. The composition of the leaves is comparable to that of other dark green leaf vegetables. The leaf composition per 100 g edible portion is: water 86.4 g, energy 147 kJ (47 kcal), protein 2.9 g, fat 1.8 g, carbohydrate 7.0 g, fibre 1.7 g. The high content of mineral nutrients, especially of Mg, Fe and K, and of carotene and vitamin C make the leaves potentially useful as food supplements. Young leaves contain the antinutrients cyanide at 60 mg per 100 g dry matter and tannins at 41 mg per 100 g dry matter, but their concentrations are below toxic levels and may not affect the bioavailability of the minerals. Young leaves should be well cooked to remove the potential toxic effects before consumption.
The composition of the seed per 100 g edible portion is: water 6.2 g, energy 2280 kJ (543 kcal), protein 20.5 g, fat 45.0 g, carbohydrate 23.5 g, fibre 2.2 g, Ca 84 mg, P 572 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968). Other sources recorded a protein content of 28–37% and an oil content of 42–56% of the dry matter. The mineral content of the seed is reported to be high. The seeds are high in essential amino acids (except lysine) and can be compared with soya bean meal with 95% biological value. The fruit pulp has a protein content of about 1.0%.
The main constituents of the seed oil are oleic acid (37%), stearic and palmitic acid (both 21%), linoleic acid (15%). Variation between samples, however, is large.
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Adulterations and substitutes  
 Fluted pumpkins as a leafy vegetable may be replaced by other dark green leafy vegetables.
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 Perennial, dioecious herb climbing by coiled, often branched tendrils to a height of more than 20 m; root system ramifying in the top surface of the soil; stem angular, glabrous, becoming fibrous when old. Leaves arranged spirally, pedately compound with 3–5 leaflets; stipules absent; petiole (2–)4–11(–15) cm long; leaflets with petiolules 0.5–3.5 cm long, central one largest, up to 15(–19) cm × 10(–12) cm, lateral ones asymmetrical, usually dentate in the upper two-thirds, sometimes scabrid underneath, 3-veined from near the base. Male inflorescence an axillary raceme up to 3(–5.5) cm long, on a peduncle up to 25 cm long, with at base of peduncle one long-pedicellate flower flowering long before the others; female flowers solitary in leaf axils. Flowers 5-merous, cream coloured, pedicel up to 4 cm long, receptacle campanulate, sepals triangular, up to 5 mm long, petals free, oblong, fringed; male flowers with 3 stamens, two 4-locular and one 2-locular, with large reddish connective; female flowers similar to male flowers but with inferior, cylindrical, 3-celled ovary and 3 large, heart-shaped stigmas. Fruit a drooping, ellipsoid berry 40–95 cm × 20–50 cm, weighing up to 6 kg, with 10 prominent ribs, pale green and covered with white bloom wax, fruit pulp yellow, many-seeded. Seeds compressed ovoid, up to 4.5 cm long, black or brown-red. Seedling with hypogeal germination, developing first a taproot and then numerous, spreading axillary roots; epicotyl 5–12 cm long; cotyledons planoconvex, fleshy.
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Other botanical information  
 Telfairia is classified in the tribe Joliffieae of the subfamily Cucurbitoideae. It comprises 3 species, of which Telfairia pedata (Sm. ex Sims) Hook. (oysternut) is much cultivated for its seed oil in East Africa. The names Telfairia pedata and oysternut are often used erroneously for Telfairia occidentalis.
Cultivars of Telfairia occidentalis are distinguished by seed colour, thickness of vine, size of leaf, growing vigour, days to flowering and succulence. In Nigeria the two main cultivars are ‘ugu-ala’, characterized by succulent, broad leaves, small black seeds, thick stem and slow growth, and ‘ugu-elu’ which has a high growth rate, large brownish seeds with high viability, and thin stem with small leaves. The large succulent leaves of ‘ugu-ala’ make this cultivar a commercial vegetable in high demand, while the fast emergence and high growth rate of ‘ugu-elu’ is preferred by farmers because of quick returns. The seed is often polyembryonic, which is useful for multiplication and in breeding.
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Growth and development  
 Seed size affects vigour, germination and seedling establishment. The viability varies from 63% for small seed (<11 g), up to 89% for the 22 g). Germination takes about 14 days in natural soil, but only 7 days in a sawdust medium. Vine length one week after emergence is on average 31 cm for large seeds, whereas small size seeds grow into a corresponding vine length of 16 cm. Larger seeds also show better growth potential in terms of number of leaves and number of branches, and show more uniformity in the seedling stand. The vegetative growth pattern of plants is sigmoidal and reaches its peak 6.5 months after planting under selective and periodic pruning of edible young leaves. Male plants flower about 3 months after planting, a month earlier than females ones. Flower opening starts from the base of the inflorescence. Male flowers have a noticeable scent around noon when pollinating insects, mostly bees of the genus Trigona, visit the flowers. The stigma of female flowers is receptive in the afternoon. Hand pollination seems to be advantageous for fruit set as it resulted in 35% fruit set compared to 15% fruit set in open pollination. Fruit set is evidenced by a rapid growth of the ovary starting within 3 days after pollination. Fruit growth is sigmoidal over 8 weeks; growth is rapid between 1.5–5.5 weeks after successful fruit set. A white, waxy bloom develops on the surface of fruit a week after fruit set and gradually intensifies, but at maturity it becomes less intense. The maturing fruit sometimes suppresses fruits that set later. Female plants produce about 18 single flowers which set fruit, but only 1–4 develop into mature fruits. Out of the female plants of a population, only 35% bear fruits. A large variation occurs between and within plants in the number of seeds per fruit, from 6 seeds per fruit up to 196, with an average of 62 seeds. The seeds are also unequal in size, varying from 1 g to 68 g. Some seeds exhibit polyembryony. The seed is recalcitrant in nature and thus seed storage is difficult. The time to physiological maturity of the fruit is 9 weeks after fruit set.
Identifying the female plants from either seeds or young seedlings has not been successful, but vine size 64 days after planting could be used as a sex indicator, because female plants are more vigorous than the male ones.
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 In the wild, fluted pumpkin occurs in forest fringes and secondary forest, possibly often as a relic of former cultivation. Fluted pumpkin grows fast in the warm humid tropics, producing edible leaves in the rainy season and at the beginning of the dry season, for a period of 6–10 months. In traditional agriculture, it is a rainfed crop and water deficiency during the dry season reduces its productivity. Although it is fairly drought tolerant, rainfall appears to be the major factor in its productivity. The best leaf and fruit yield and highest plant survival rate occur when the plants are irrigated 2–3 times per week during the dry season. Fluted pumpkin can be grown under a wide range of soil conditions. It can be managed as a short-term perennial when grown on well-drained soils, slightly shaded and mulched. On soggy soils and in sunlit spots it can only be grown as an annual.
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Propagation and planting  
 Fluted pumpkin seeds are viviparous (germinating in the fruit). Since seeds are recalcitrant they cannot be stored for more than 3 days once they are extracted from the fruit. The critical seed moisture content below which seeds cannot recover from desiccation is 40–60%. Fluted pumpkin is often grown as a crop in homesteads where it is intercropped with other vegetables and food crops such as cassava, yams and maize, or planted against fences. Commercially it is grown as a sole crop. The conventional method of propagation is by seed, sown directly at a rate of 30,000–70,000 seeds/ha and spaced at 0.3–1 m × 0.3–1 m. Densely spaced stands are best for leaf production, while the wider spacing is best for fruit production when staked. Depending on the soil type, rainfall and cropping pattern, fluted pumpkin can be planted on the flat, or on ridges or mounds.
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 During the rainy season, staking is commonly practised to reduce disease infection. Plants are staked individually or, for fruit production, with bamboo trellis. During the dry season staking is not needed for crops for leaf production because there is less disease attack. Staking does not have a significant effect on the yield of leaves. Because of the prolific nature of the plant, weeds are not troublesome. Planting on flat land is the best method of weed suppression. Three weedings may be required in a staked crop during the rainy season. During the dry season when plants are not staked, two weedings are needed before the leaf canopy smothers most weeds. Mulching can be used as a method of weed control and to retain soil moisture. The first pruning is 4 weeks after emergence to stimulate branching and increase the growth. Irrigation is necessary for high leaf or fruit production especially under sole cropping in the dry season. 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. In southern Nigeria application of P was found to be especially important, as N and K only increased yields in combination with application of P.
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 plants is desirable for high leaf and fruit yields.
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Diseases and pests  
 White leaf spot disease, caused by Phoma sorghina, reduces the leaf lamina. It also affects the seed. It is controlled by biweekly foliar spraying with Dithane M-45 at a concentration of 500 ppm. Fusarium moniliforme forms a dry powdery mass of mycelia on the fruits. Erwinia aroideae causes soft rot of the leaves with yellowish ooze; it also affects the fruits. A prevalent virus disease is Telfairia mosaic virus (Telfairia mosaic potyvirus) (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 and via the seed. Fluted pumpkin is remarkably resistant to root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.).
Rhizopus stolonifer, Aspergillus niger, Botryodiplodia theobromae and Erwinia spp. are diseases of fluted pumpkin fruits in storage. Fungi may cause up to 95% loss, bacteria only 5% loss in long-term fruit storage.
A common pest of fluted pumpkins is the grasshopper Zonocerus variegatus which feeds on the foliage and stems. The leaf beetle Copa occidentalis feeds on the leaves, flowers and other plant parts, while Spodoptera caterpillars feed on leaves and bore into fruits. Pachmola (flower beetles) and Nezara spp. (green shield bug) feed on leaves, stem and fruits. Margaronia indica defoliates the plant, white beetle (Baris spp.) feeds on fruits. Sylepta derogata, Aphis gossypii and Aphis spiraecola hinder growth by feeding on stem, foliage and flower buds, and transmit viruses. There are some unidentified predators that feed on the aphids. Thrips of the genus Taeniothrips cause flower abortion.
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 Leaf harvesting begins one month after emergence and is continued at 3–4-week intervals. The best method of harvesting is by pruning, i.e. by cutting beneath the lowest acceptable leaf. The harvest interval has no effect on the longevity of the crop and, depending on the irrigation facilities, 4–6 harvests or more are expected. In commercial production during the dry season, harvesting time in Nigeria is between November and July with 18 or more harvests. Fruits are harvested 9 weeks after fruit set.
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 The fresh shoot yield can be as low as 500–1000 kg/ha, but it can also reach 3–10 t/ha. In home gardens in Benin, one plant occupying 3 m of fence produced 2 kg young leaves per m in the rainy season and 500 g in the dry season without irrigation. The seed yield can reach 1.9 t/ha, derived from 3000 fruits.
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Handling after harvest  
 After harvest, the succulent leaves remain fresh for just one day. In Nigeria harvested leaves are packed as ‘heads’ and tied in a jute bag. These are collected from the farm gate. It is possible to store the leaves for 3 days in a jute bag in an airy place but they lose turgidity. Fresh shoots are sold wholesale to traders, mainly women, who retail them in smaller bundles. Large bundles are wrapped with plantain leaves or loosely covered with old jute or kenaf cloth sacks, and sparingly watered to preserve freshness. In this way they can withstand transport to the market, where they are split into smaller units for sale.
Fruits may be stored in open shade for 1–2 months at the most. Most often they are transported by rail from the eastern part of Nigeria to the middle zone of the country. Before the fruits are sold, they are graded according to size (small, medium and large). In the market they are placed in heaps and sold as heaps or singly. Seeds are left in the fruits until they are used for planting or consumption.
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Genetic resources and breeding  
 Collection and preservation of the different accessions of West and Central Africa is necessary. Their agronomic potential and leaf and seed quality should be evaluated. In Nigeria there is currently a small collection of fluted pumpkin at the Federal University of Agriculture at Makurdi and at the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT) at Ibadan. A problem is the recalcitrant character of the seed, making long-term conservation difficult. The National Agricultural Institute of Benin, the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the University of Benin and IPGRI have recently set up a joint project to study egusi crops, including their genetic diversity. Telfairia occidentalis is included.
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 Some selections have been made in Nigeria and Cameroon, but no serious breeding work has been carried out so far.
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 Fluted pumpkin could become a productive leaf and seed vegetable once planting material of good cultivars is readily available. The variation in the plants from different accessions should be used to improve both the quality and quantity of seed and leaves. In Nigeria, the Department of Crop Production of the Federal University of Agriculture in Makurdi and NIHORT at Ibadan have started research work.
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Major references  
 • Akoroda, M.O., 1990. Ethnobotany of Telfairia occidentalis (Cucurbitaceae) among Igbos of Nigeria. Economic Botany 44(1): 29–39.
• Akoroda, M.O., 1990. Seed production and breeding potential of the fluted pumpkin, Telfairia occidentalis. Euphytica 49: 25–32.
• Akoroda, M.O., Ogbechie-Odiaka, N.I., Adebayo, M.L., Ugwo, O.E. & Fuwa, B., 1990. Flowering, pollination and fruiting in fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis). Scientia Horticulturae 43: 197–206.
• Akubue, P.I., Kar, A. & Nnachetta, F.N., 1980. Toxicity of extract of roots and leaves for Telfairia occidentalis. Medicinal Plants 38: 339–343.
• Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
• Keraudren-Aymonin, M., 1975. Cucurbitaceae. In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 152 pp.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
• Okoli, B.E. & Mgbeogwu, C.M., 1983. Fluted pumpkin, Telfairia occidentalis: West African vegetable crop. Economic Botany 37(2): 145–147.
• Schippers, R.R., 2002. African indigenous vegetables, an overview of the cultivated species 2002. Revised edition on CD-ROM. National Resources International Limited, Aylesford, United Kingdom.
• Stevels, J.M.C., 1990. Légumes traditionnels du Cameroun: une étude agrobotanique. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 90–1. Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 262 pp.
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Other references  
 • Akoroda, M.O., 1986. Seed desiccation and recalcitrance in Telfairia occidentalis. Seed Science and Technology 14: 327–332.
• Akoroda, M.O. & Adejoro, M.A., 1989. Patterns of vegetative and sexual development of Telfairia occidentalis Hook. f. Tropical Agriculture (Trinidad) 67(3): 243–247.
• Akpanabiatu, M.I., Bassey, N.B. & Udosen, E.O., 1998. Evaluation of some minerals and toxicants in some Nigerian soup meals. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 11(4): 292–297.
• Akwaowo, E.U., Ndon, D.A. & Etuk, E.U., 2000. Minerals and antinutrients in fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis Hook. f.). Food Chemistry 70(2): 235–240.
• Cobley, L.S. & Steele, W.M., 1976. An introduction to the botany of tropical crops. Longman Group Limited, London, United Kingdom. 387 pp.
• Egbekan, M.K., Nda-Suleiman, E.O. & Akinyeye, O., 1998. Utilization of fluted pumpkin fruit (Telfairia occidentalis) in marmalade manufacturing. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 52(2): 171–176.
• Emebiri, L.C. & Nwufo, M.I., 1996. Occurrence and detection of early sex-related differences in Telfairia occidentalis. Sexual Plant Reproduction 9(3): 140–144.
• Essien, A.I., Ebana, R.U.B. & Udo, H.B., 1992. Chemical evaluation of the pod and pulp of the fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis) fruit. Food Chemistry 45(3): 175–178.
• Esuoso, K.O., Lutz, H., Bayer, E. & Kutubuddin, M., 2000. Unsaponifiable lipid constituents of some underutilized tropical seed oils. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 48(2): 231–234.
• Esuoso, K.O., Lutz, H., Kutubuddin, M. & Bayer, E., 1998. Chemical composition and potential of some underutilized tropical biomass. 1. Fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis). Food Chemistry 6(4): 487–492.
• Jeffrey, C., 1967. Cucurbitaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 157 pp.
• Nwokolo, E. & Sim, J.S., 1987. Nutritional assessment of defatted oil meals of melon (Colocynthis citrullus L.) and fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis Hook.) by chick assay. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 38(3): 237–246.
• Obiagwu, C.J. & Odiaka, N.I., 1995. Fertilizer schedule for yield of fresh fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis) grown in lower Benue river basin of Nigeria. Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences 65(2): 98–101.
• Odiaka, N.I., 2001. Survey on the production and supply of Telfairia occidentalis in Makurdi, Benue State Nigeria. Crop Production Department, University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Nigeria.
• Odiaka-Ogbechie, N.I., 1987. Is Telfairia parthenocarpic? An MSc project submitted to the Department of Agronomy University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
• Odiyi, A.C., 1997. Multiple seedling trait in the fluted pumpkin Telfairia occidentalis Hook. f. Studies of its origin. Proceedings of the 15th Annual conference of Horticultural Society of Nigeria (HORTSON), 8–11 April 1997, Ibadan, Nigeria.
• Oke, O.L., 1973. Leaf protein research in Nigeria. Tropical Science 15: 139–155.
• Olaofe, O., Adeyemi, F.O. & Adediran, G.O., 1994. Amino acid and mineral compositions and functional properties of some oilseeds. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 42(4): 878–881.
• Ossom, E.M., 1986. Influence of harvest interval on yield, crude protein, N, P, and K contents on longevity of the fluted pumpkin Telfairia occidentalis Hook. Tropical Agriculture (Trinidad and Tobago) 63(1): 63–65.
• van Epenhuijsen, C.W., 1974. Growing native vegetables in Nigeria. FAO, Rome, Italy. 113 pp.
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Afriref references  
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Sources of illustration  
 • Stevels, J.M.C., 1990. Légumes traditionnels du Cameroun: une étude agrobotanique. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 90–1. Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 262 pp.
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N.I. Odiaka
Crop Production Department, Federal university of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Boeckweijdt Consult, Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate editors  
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors  
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor  
E. Boer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article  
 Odiaka, N.I. & Schippers, R.R., 2004. Telfairia occidentalis Hook.f. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed .

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General importance
Geographic coverage Africa
Geographic coverage World
Forage/feed use
Medicinal use
Spices and condiment use
Vegetable oil use
Fibre use
Food security

Telfairia occidentalis
wild and planted

Telfairia occidentalis
1, part of male flowering plant; 2, part of female flowering plant; 3, fruit. Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

Telfairia occidentalis
fruits from a homegarden, Cameroon

Telfairia occidentalis
male inflorescence

Telfairia occidentalis
femal (left) and male flower

Telfairia occidentalis
flower (front tepals removed)

Telfairia occidentalis
fruit with large seeds

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