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The Dominican Higüero Tree


When you first see a higüero tree, it looks more or less like any other tree. It’s a medium-sized tree with average sized leaves. But as you approach it, you will spot its outrageously large fruit – the higüero. The higüero is a large oval-shaped fruit with a smooth, shiny lime green exterior.  more...


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When you first see a higüero tree, it looks more or less like any other tree. It’s a medium-sized tree with average sized leaves. But as you approach it, you will spot its outrageously large fruit – the higüero. The higüero is a large oval-shaped fruit with a smooth, shiny lime green exterior. It’s not uncommon for these pods to grow even larger than a watermelon. These hefty gourds make for a very odd sight as they hang from the branches of the higüero tree. Sometimes a gourd will even begin to grow right out of the main trunk, looking almost extra-terrestrial.

What can you do with the higuero gourd? Well you can’t eat it any part of the gourd, but the thick and tough outer layer can be made into all types of useful and decorative items, such as ladles, dishes, bowls, canteens, maracas, jewelry cases, and large serving forks.

The process of making a receptacle out of the higüero depends on the artisan. Some say you should set the fruit out in the sun for several days and then open it to remove the pulp (which at this point will be quite stinky). Others favor opening the fruit as soon as it is cut from the tree, scooping out the insides and just laying the shells out to dry in the sun. Either way, the gourd is opened and the white meat is removed.

Different from other gourd cousins in Central America, which are usually smaller and round, the Dominican higüero is roughly the same size and shape of a watermelon, if not a bit bigger. This opens up many creative possibilities for the skilled craftsman. The way the gourd is cut will depend on what he would like to use it for. For example, if you cut it in half you’ll get 2 medium-sized deep dishes. If you cut it in half length-wise you can make 2 long shallow bowls. Traditionally, many higüeros were used as jugs to carry water, back in the days when there was no running water available. In this case a small opening was made at the top and the task of removing the pulp was much more tedious.

Many Dominicans remember using shallow bowls made from higüeros to sift and clean rice, for shelling beans and pigeon peas, and to wash fruit. Nowadays higüeros have become something more of a novelty. In the cities they are mostly used for decorative purposes, although in the more rural parts of the country you can still see them being put to use in the kitchen or other areas of the house.

After several days in the sun, the outer shell hardens into a durable wood-like material. Before the gourd is set out to dry, an artisan can carve a beautiful decorative pattern onto the outer layer. When the fruit is still green and tender, it can be easily etched with a spoon, butter knife, a nail or anything else along those lines. Once the shell dries the design becomes permanent.

This amazing gourd tree is just of the many floras that makes the Dominican Republic so unique. Perhaps you’ll be able to see this incredible tree on your trip to island. Who knows, you might even be able to make your own keepsake with this time-honored craft.

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