Pumpkins!

Ah the pumpkin. Nothing signifies fall to me more than this lovely orange gourd. Who doesn't love the eerie glow of a jack-o-lantern or the pleasing taste of roasted pumpkin seeds? Don't even get me started on my love for pumpkin pie! This gourd has certainly ingrained itself in our culture but, from a botanical standpoint, pumpkins or at least the species of which they are a variety of, are quite interesting.

Cucurbita pepo is native to North America and is a member of the gourd family, which are characterized by the large fruits that they produce. The gourds themselves are actually a type of berry. C. pepo is one of the oldest species of plants ever domesticated. Records from Mexico show humans cultivating this species as far back as 8750 BC. The origins of this domesticated species are still a bit fuzzy but experts believe that C. pepo is a hybrid of Cucurbita texana and Cucurbita fraterna, though the former may just be a feral form of C. pepo.

As it turns out, pumpkins are only one domesticated variety of Cucurbita pepo. Many of the gourds we enjoy are also varieties of this species. These include crops like acorn squash, delicata squash, gem squash, several types of ornamental squash (often called "gourds"), pattypan squash, spaghetti squash, yellow crookneck squash, yellow summer squash, and zucchini!

Many of these varieties are believed to have originated in the southern portions of Mexico but that is still being resolved. So, if you find yourself carving pumpkins and eating some other form of gourd, like spaghetti squash, realize that you are spending your evening celebrating the many uses of a single species!

Photo Credit: Thom Pirson

Further Reading:
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/1492/cucurbits.html

http://cuke.hort.ncsu.edu/cgc/cgc10/cgc10-36.html

http://www.jstor.org/stable/2444217

http://www.jstor.org/stable/3093892

http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CUPE