The butternut squash and the gourd are both plants within the Cucurbitaceae family, but the butternut squash is a specific plant while the gourd is a general name given to plants within the Cucurbitaceae family. The origins of the butternut squash and its uses are different from other gourds.
The Cucurbitaceae family consists of plants that produce crops on vines such as pumpkins, gourds, squash and melons. Within this family, there is a plant called Cucurbita moschata, better known as butternut squash. The gourd is a general name for many different types of plants within this family, especially plants from the genus Lagernia. Sometimes, a hollowed out melon or squash can be referred to as a gourd.
The butternut squash was domesticated in South America more than 5,000 years ago. Gourds are thought to have originated in Africa, but now various genera are seen all over the globe.
Both butternut squash and some varieties of gourds, including pumpkins, are prepared similarly and used primarily for food. Butternut squash is prepared to eat by steaming or cooking to soften the interior pulp for consumption. Butternut squash is a common ingredient in soup because its pulp is not as stringy as other squash and gourd pulps. Many other gourds are used as containers and musical instruments rather than for food because of their thick durable skins and lack of nutrients.
Butternut squash is primarily identified by its beige or orange color and bell shape. Gourds are found in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. For example, the Cucurbita pepo (ornamental gourd) is a long, thin, striped gourd. Another variety of the Cucurbita pepo is a small, shriveled, orange gourd. The Marah macrocarpus gourd (wild cucumber) can be small and thorny.
Despite popular belief that the butternut squash and many gourd varieties were domesticated in different places, there is research to suggest that ancient Americans brought this plant with them across the land bridge in Asia.