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The names “winter squash” and “pumpkin” are also applied to the cultivars of C. maxima, C. mixta and C. pepo. Because the common names are used to refer to several different species, and those species may also have other common names, it can be difficult to ascertain which varieties are derived from which species. In the U.S., cultivars with round, orange fruits are generally referred to as pumpkins, while fruits with other shapes and colors are called winter squashes, regardless of the species.
C. moschata likely originated in Mexico and Central America, and was already widely cultivated in North and South America before the arrival of Europeans. Archaeologists have found evidence of C. moschata in Peruvian sites dated from 4,000–3,000 B.C., and in Mexican sites from 1440–400 B.C., suggesting a long history of domestication and cultivation.
C. moschata is better adapted to hot, humid climates than C. pepo and C. maxima, and is resistant to squash vine borers, Melittia cucurbitae, so these varieties are popular for cultivation in the southeastern U.S. A C. moschata variety, the Dickenson field pumpkin, is the dominant source of canned pumpkin (and, therefore, pumpkin pies) in the U.S. However, giant pumpkins, with fruits weighing over 45 kg (100 pounds) come from cultivars of C. maxima.
C. moschata plants are frost-intolerant monoecious annuals. Stems are hairless or soft hairy, trailing or climbing vines growing to 3 meters. Leaves are simple, alternate, and shallowly lobed, often with white spots along the veins. The peduncle (stem that holds the fruit) is five-angled and flares outward where attached to the fruit. Fruits (technically referred to as pepos) are relatively large, with shapes ranging from globose to oblong to flattened. Seeds are 16–20 mm long.
Winter squashes and pumpkins, which are low in calories and high in fiber and vitamin A, are usually eaten as a vegetable, in purees, soups, or pies. Seeds are high in protein, oil, and minerals, and are eaten raw, toasted, or pressed to make oil. Male flowers are coated with breading or batter and made into fritters. In South America, tips of young vines are boiled and eaten.
C. moschata has numerous traditional medicinal uses in South and Central America. Seeds are toasted and eaten to kill worms and other intestinal parasites and used as a diuretic; a preparation from the flowers has been used to treat measles and smallpox. 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 (across all species of Cucurbitaceae) was 22.1 million tons harvested from 1.7 million hectares in 2009, valued at $5.2 billion U.S. dollars. Leading producers were China, Russia, India, the U.S., and Egypt.
(Ecocrop 2011, FAOSTAT 2011, Hui 2006, NRC 1989, Schoenian 2011, Schultes 1990, Whittaker and Davis 1962)