Cucurbita maxima, winter squash, pumpkin, calabaza, or marrow, is a species in the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) native to South America and cultivated by indigenous people for over 2,000 years but now cultivated in warm areas worldwide commercially and in home gardens as food and animal fodder and for oil from the seeds. C. maxima is the source of many varieties of winter squash (including Acorn, Banana, Buttercup, Kabocha, Golden Delicious, Hubbard, and Lakota), as well as giant pumpkin varieties (those that weigh over 45 kg [100 pounds]).
Related cultivated species also known as squash or pumpkins are C. pepo (summer squash, also called marrow), and C. mixta and C. moschata (both of which are also known as pumpkin or winter squash). It can be difficult to ascertain which varieties are derived from which species, because the names “winter squash” and “pumpkin” are used to refer to several different species, and those species may also have other common names.
C. maxima plants are frost-intolerant annual herbaceous plants. The stems, more or less prickly, are generally trailing or climbing vines, with tendrils that allow that allow them to clasp supports. Leaves are simple, alternate, and shallowly to deeply lobed. Fruits (technically referred to as pepos) are relatively large and usually require a long growing season for development.
Winter squashes come in many forms, sizes, and colors—Cucurbita in general and this species in particular may have the largest variability of any horticultural crop. Fruits may be globose, oblong or elongate, cylindrical, or even flattened, and some forms have crooked or elongated necks. They range from the size of a plum to pumpkins weighing over 450 kg (1000 pounds). Rind colors vary from white to cream to yellow to orange to green; some cultivars have variegated fruits. The surface of the fruit may be smooth, scalloped, ridged, or warty. Rinds are harder than those of summer squashes (C. pepo) and are generally not eaten. Winter squashes can be stored for several months after harvest if kept dry and cool (but above freezing).
Winter squashes are eaten as a vegetable, mashed or in purees, soups, or pies. The blossoms are also edible, and may be cooked into fritters. Seeds are high in protein and minerals, and are eaten raw, toasted, or pressed to make oil. In South and Central America, seeds are toasted and eaten to kill worms and other intestinal parasites. Pumpkin seeds are sometimes used as a natural worming agent for sheep and goats by organic farmers, but their efficacy has not been clearly demonstrated.
World production of pumpkins, squashes, and gourds in 2009 was 22.1 million tons harvested from 1.7 million hectares, valued at $5.2 billion U.S. dollars. Leading producers were China, Russia, India, the U.S., and Egypt.
The Guinness World Record for the world’s largest pumpkin ever was earned in 2010, by a Wisconsin pumpkin weighing 821.23 kg (1,810 lb 8 oz); see (YouTube video ). A similar pumpkin was carved into the world’s largest jack-o-lantern at New York Botanical Garden in 2011 in this YouTube clip.
(ECPGR 2008, Encyclopedia Britannica 1993, FAOSTAT 2011, GuinessWorldRecords.com 2011, Schoenian 2011, Schultes 1990, Whittaker and Davis 1962)
- ECPGR. 2008. ￼Minimum descriptors for Cucurbita spp., cucumber, melon and watermelon.
- European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR), Working Group on Cucurbits. Accessed 28 November 2011 from http://www.ecpgr.cgiar.org/fileadmin/www.ecpgr.cgiar.org/NW_and_WG_UPLOADS/Cucurbits_DescriptorLists.pdf.
- Encyclopedia Britannica. 1993. “Squash.” Micropedia Vol. 11: 185. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
- FAOSTAT. 2011. FAOSTAT 2011. Searchable online database from Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations. Retrieved 20 November 2011 from http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/default.aspx#ancor.
- GuinnessWorldRecords. 2011. “Heaviest pumpkin.” Accessed 22 November 2011 from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-1/heaviest-pumpkin/.
- Schoenian, S. 2011. Small ruminant information sheet: Marketing claims for sheep and goats. University of Maryland Extension Service. Accessed 22 November 2011 from http://www.sheepandgoat.com/articles/marketingclaims.html.
- Schultes, R.E. 1990. “Biodynamic cucurbits in the New World tropics.” In Bates, D.M., R.W. Robinson, and C. Jeffrey, eds. Biology and Utilization of the Cucurbitaceae. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Pp. 307–324.
- Whittaker, T.S., and G.N. Davis. 1962. Cucurbits: Botany, Cultivation, and Utilization. 1962. New York: Interscience Publishers. 249 p.