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The Peculiar Plant ─ Gac
The fruit is so strange! Its surface is covered with conical points. The color of the ripe fruit is reddish orange. From a diatance, they are so beautiful, just like the lanterns hanging everywhere (Fig. 1). While observing closely, the unmatured fruit with green color are like the huge passion fruit with spines. Oh! It turns out that the plant not only has a strange fruit shape but also has a peculiar name in Chinese ─ ‘mu-bie-zi’.
The gac is also named red melon, spiny bitter gourd, sweet gourd, or cochinchin gourd in English. It is a dioecious perennial vine plant classified into the Family Cucurbitaceae and genus Momordica. In Taiwan, it is the aboriginal dishes of the wild vegetable and is a kind of vegetable with development potential. Besides its fruit is available for cooking, the young stem and leave could also be used as vegetables. The gac root contains saponins as soapberry and could be used as soaps. The flesh of the mature gac fruit has reddish orange color, and the seed is surrounded by a red aril with sweet taste (Fig. 2). Because the shape of the seed without aril is similar to a mini turtle, so its name in Chinese is pronounced ‘mu-bie-zi’ which the ’bie’ means the turtle. There is toxicity in gac seed, and the literatures indicate that it is a traditional Chinese medicinal material. In 2004, the research published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) refers that the mature gac fruit has many kinds of human essential nutrients such as lycopene, β-carotene, lutein, etc. Compared with other vegetables and fruits, the nutrient contents in gac are higher.
In general, the gac is cultivated with trellises (Fig. 3). The seeds taken from the fruit are ready for sowing after drying in the shade. The germination rate could be increased by pretreatment such as scarification. Because increasingly importance has been attached to the nutritional value of the mature gac fruit, the Taiwan Seed Improvement and Propagation Station, COA indicates that they have tried to colllect the gac germplasm from 2015. Besides, the fruit type classification and seedling grafting experiments would be conducted in order to improve the qualities, yield, and economic value of the gac in Taiwan.
▲Fig.1 The reddish orange gac fruits.
▲Fig.2 The seed surrounded by red aril.
▲Fig.3 The gac cultivated with trellises.