GOURD (קִיקָיוֹן, H7813, the Palma christi; פַּקֻּעֹ֥ת, wild cucumbers). The word “gourd” is mentioned five times in Jonah 4, while “wild gourds” appear in 2 Kings 4:39. It is the marginal notes in the KJV and ASV that suggest the alternative tr. “Palm-Christ.” This is the castor bean plant, Ricimum communis. This plant has huge leaves, which provide excellent shade. It could be used growing over a bower, and grows rapidly. In England, the castor oil plant grows to a height of four ft., but in the E it makes a large shade-giving tree. It is certainly a native of Asia. In Moffatt’s tr., Jonah’s booth is called a hut, and the castor oil tree could easily have grown behind it to provide thick shade and coolness.
Augustine, however, believed that the plant that gave Jonah shade was a true gourd, and it could easily have been. Gourds climb; they have very broad leaves; and they grow quickly in the E, lengthening themselves by as much as twelve to eighteen inches a day. They wither and die quickly when attacked at their base by insects like wireworms.
Gourds are, of course, relatives of the cucumber and of the squash—much eaten in the U.S.A. and Canada. In fact, the gourd could have been one of the winter squashes like the Hubbard, Cucurbita maxima. They climb up pergolas and fences even today in Pal.
The gourd in 2 Kings 4:39 is prob. the poisonous Citrullus colocynthus, known in Great Britain as Bitter Apple. It has a leaf like a squash, and the fruit could easily, therefore, have been mistaken for an edible squash.
The cry, “death in the pot” (2 Kings 4:40), was never fully substantiated, for nobody died. The stew, therefore, may not have been poisonous, but strongly purgative and bitter. Those who partook would therefore have had an acute pain. The adding of the meal could have been God’s miraculous answer, or the fact that the wise prophet knew that meal would neutralize the bitterness.
In the ASV of 1 Kings 6:18, there is a reference to gourds in the margin, i.e. instead of “carved with knops and open flowers,” the words read “carved with gourds.” This information is repeated in 1 Kings 7:24, where “knops” were cast in two rows. The carving of little gourds alternated with open flowers would have been very attractive.
Renaissance painters used plants in their pictures to give a symbolic meaning. Gourds were used as symbolic of salvation, and this may be the reason why they were used in the Temple (1 Kings 7:24).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
gord, goord (qiqayon): The Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) has hedera ("ivy"), which is impossible. Philologically qiqayon appears to be connected with kiki, which was the Egyptian name for the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis). This grows plentifully all over the Orient, and under favorable conditions may reach a height of 10 to 15 ft.; its larger leaves afford a grateful shade. The requirements of the narrative in Jon 4:6 ff are, however, much more suitably met by the "bottle gourd" (Cucurbita lagenaria), the Arab qar`ah. This is a creeping, vinelike plant which may frequently be seen trained over the rough temporary sun-shelters erected in fields or by the roadside in Palestine and Mesopotamia.