Grow your own toys with Tennessee dancing gourd

May 10, 2023

Most male singing groups have a lead singer who is a tenor. So the Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubb, who had a deep baritone voice, was forced to push his range ever higher, giving his singing a sound of pleading, imploring and urgency. The children's toy, a spinning top, with its squat body and sharply pointed bottom, also pushes our senses because as it spins on its vertical axis, it balances on the very tip, like singer Levi, due to the gyroscopic effect.

While you might not grow a voice like Levi Stubb, you can grow your own kids' tops, the Tennessee dancing gourd (Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera).

These adorable, 2-3-inch, green-and-white-striped bottle gourds are also called spinning gourds, according to Junior Gordon of Primm Springs, Tenn., who is the original source for this fun crop.

To spin the tiny gourds, hold the neck between your middle finger and thumb and quickly snap your fingers. The gourds will spin on their own for quite some time.

Schoolkids sometimes bring them to class as toys. When dried, the gourds take on a pale tan color. They are often painted and made into jewelry or Christmas tree decorations. They can be fashioned into miniature birdhouses to decorate craft projects or dollhouses. They even make scary-looking spirit doll heads.

The vigorous vines are very prolific producers of the tiny gourds. You can start the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your last frost, or plant them directly in the ground in spring after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up. Choose a spot that gets full sun.

They grow best in rich soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Sow the seeds 1 inch deep with six to eight seeds in each hill or group. When the plants are a few inches high, thin them so there are only three or four plants in each hill. Space the hills 6 feet apart in each direction.

Good companion plants for gourds are pole beans, corn and sunflowers. Do not grow gourds near potatoes. Because of their small size, these gourds grow perfectly well on fences or up garden trellises. 

Side dress with a good organic fertilizer when the spinning gourds begin to bloom. Seeds are available from many mail-order seed companies such as Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101, or 563-382-5990.

Grow your own kids' toys this year. Plant Tennessee dancing gourds, and you will soon be spinning to the Four Tops. No baritone needed.


  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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