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Morton, J. 1987. Cassabanana. p. 444–445. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.


Sicana odorifera Naud.

Cucurbita odorifera Vell.

A handsome and interesting member of the Cucurbitaceae, the cassabanana, Sicana odorifera Naud. (syn. Cucurbita odorifera Vell.), is also called sikana or musk cucumber. It is known as melocotonero, calabaza de olor, calabaza melón, pérsico or alberchigo in Mexico; melocotón or melón de olor in El Salvador and Guatemala; calabaza de chila in Costa Rica; cojombro in Nicaragua; chila in Panama; pavi in Bolivia; padea, olerero, secana or upe in Peru; calabaza de Paraguay, curuba, or pepino melocoton in Colombia; cura, coróa, curua, curuba, cruatina, melão caboclo or melão macã in Brazil; cajú cajuba, cajua, cagua, calabaza de Guinea in Venezuela; pepino, pepino angolo or pepino socato in Puerto Rico; cohombro in Cuba.

Fig. 118: The cassabanana (Sicana odorifera Naud.), photographed by Wilson Popenoe, plant explorer for the U.S.D.A. Bureau of Plant Industry, in Guatemala on September 23, 1916.


The vine is perennial, herbaceous, fast-growing, heavy, requiring a strong trellis; climbing trees to 50 ft (15 m) or more by means of 4-parted tendrils equipped with adhesive discs that can adhere tightly to the smoothest surface. Young stems are hairy. The leaves are gray-hairy, rounded-cordate or rounded kidney-shaped, to 1 ft (30 cm) wide, deeply indented at the base, 3-lobed, with wavy or toothed margins, on petioles 1 1/2 to 4 3/4 in (4-12 cm) long. Flowers are white or yellow, urn-shaped, 5-lobed, solitary, the male 3/4 in (2 cm) long, the female about 2 in (5 cm) long. Renowned for its strong, sweet, agreeable, melon-like odor, the striking fruit is ellipsoid or nearly cylindrical, sometimes slightly curved; 12 to 24 in (30-60 cm) in length, 2 3/4 to 4 1/2 in (7-11.25 cm) thick, hard-shelled, orange-red, maroon, dark-purple with tinges of violet, or entirely jet-black; smooth and glossy when ripe, with firm, orange-yellow or yellow, cantaloupe-like, tough, juicy flesh, 3/4 in (2 cm) thick. In the central cavity, there is softer pulp, a soft, fleshy core, and numerous flat, oval seeds, 5/8 in (16 mm) long and 1/4 in (6 mm) wide, light-brown bordered with a dark-brown stripe, in tightly-packed rows extending the entire length of the fruit.

Origin and Distribution

The cassabanana is believed native to Brazil but it has been spread throughout tropical America. Historians have evidence that it was cultivated in Ecuador in pre-Hispanic times. It was first mentioned by European writers in 1658 as cultivated and popular in Peru. It is grown near sea-level in Central America but the fruit is carried to markets even up in the highlands. Venezuelans and Brazilians are partial to the vine as an ornamental, but in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico it is grown for the usefulness of the fruit.

In 1903, O.F. Cook saw one fruit in a market in Washington, D.C. The United States Department of Agriculture received seeds from C.A. Miller, the American Consul in Tampico, Mexico, in 1913 (S.P.I. #35136). H.M. Curran collected seeds in Brazil in 1915 (S.P.I. #41665). Wilson Popenoe introduced seeds from Guatemala in 1916 (S.P.I. #43427). The author brought seeds from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, to the Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead, in 1951. A resulting vine grew to large size but produced a single 2 ft (60 cm) fruit. Dr. John Thieret, formerly Professor of Botany at Southwestern Louisiana University, says that the Cajuns in the southern part of that state grow the cassabanana for making preserves. Verrill stated in 1937, "The fruit is now on sale in New York markets."

According to Burkill, the vine was tried in the Botanic Gardens in Singapore but lived for only a short time. Wester wrote that it fruited at Lamao in the Philippines in 1916 and became heavily attacked by a destructive fly (Dacus sp.).

Plate LXVIII: CASSABANANA, Sicana odorifera

Fenzi says that the cassabanana is grown from seeds or cuttings. A high temperature during the fruiting season is needed to assure perfect ripening. Brazilians train the vine to grow over arbors or they may plant it close to a tree. However, if it is allowed to climb too high up the tree there is the risk that it may smother and kill it.

Keeping Quality and Marketing

The cassabanana remains in good condition for several months if kept dry and out of the sun.

The fruit has high market value in Puerto Rico. It is cut up and sold by the piece, the price being determined by weight.

Food Uses

The ripe flesh, sliced thin, is eaten raw, especially in the summer when it is appreciated as cooling and refreshing. However, it is mainly used in the kitchen for making jam or other preserves. The immature fruit is cooked as a vegetable or in soup and stews.

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion

  Analyses of ripe fruit made in Guatemala (without peel, seeds, or soft central pulp) Analyses of peeled green fruit made in Nicaragua (including seeds)
Moisture 85.1 g 92.7 g
Protein 0.145 g 0.093 g
Fat 0.02 g 0.21 g
Fiber 1.1 g 0.6 g
Ash 0.70 g 0.38 g
Calcium 21.1 mg 8.2 mg
Phosphorus 24.5 mg 24.2 mg
Iron 0.33 mg 0.87 mg
Carotene 0.11 mg 0.003 mg
Thiamine 0.058 mg 0.038 mg
Riboflavin 0.035 mg  
Niacin 0.767 mg 0.647 mg
Ascorbic Acid 13.9 mg 10.0 mg

Other Uses

Fruit: People like to keep the fruit around the house, and especially in linen- and clothes-closets, because of its long-lasting fragrance, and they believe that it repels moths. It is also placed on church altars during Holy Week.

Medicinal Uses: In Puerto Rico, the flesh is cut up and steeped in water, with added sugar, overnight at room temperature so that it will ferment slightly. The resultant liquor is sipped frequently and strips of the flesh are eaten, too, to relieve sore throat. It is believed beneficial also to, at the same time, wear a necklace of the seeds around the neck.

The seed infusion is taken in Brazil as a febrifuge, vermifuge, purgative and emmenagogue. The leaves are employed in treating uterine hemorrhages and venereal diseases. In Yucatan, a decoction of leaves and flowers (2 g in 180cc water) is prescribed as a laxative, emmenagogue and vermifuge, with a warning not to make a stronger preparation inasmuch as the seeds and flowers yield a certain amount of hydrocyanic acid.