Genealogy is the study of family. Genealogists spend a lot of time doing research about the people who are in their family tree. In some ways, it can be said that foods also have a family tree. Here is a little bit of information about pumpkins, their closest relatives, and their “family history”.
The pumpkin is intrinsically associated with Halloween. We carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. We make pumpkin pies, roast pumpkin seeds, and add pumpkin to pastries and coffee. It seemed like the perfect time of year to dig into the family tree of the pumpkin. Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family.
There are about 125 genera and 960 species in this food family. It includes many kinds of squashes, melons, and gourds. It also includes cucumbers, watermelons, and, believe it or not, luffas. Yes, that sponge-like item that you use when you take a bath is from a plant that is related to the pumpkin!
Some types of pumpkin are from the Cucubita pepo species. Others are from the species Cucubita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, or Cucubita moschata. It wouldn’t be wrong to think of the different species of pumpkins as different branches of the Cucurbitaceae family tree. The states that produce the most pumpkins are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
Pumpkins have two kinds of flowers: male and female. According to Burpee, the male flowers show up first, followed by the female flowers. Burpee also says that you can tell the difference between a female flower and a male flower because the female flowers have a baby pumpkin at their base of each flower.
The biggest pumpkins come from the Cucubita maxima species. This species was cultivated from the hubbard squash genotype that had been crossed with kabocha pumpkin types. This process was started by farmers in the early nineteenth century. Many of the pumpkins that have won “Giant Pumpkin” contests are of the Atlantic Giant variety, which are part of the Cucubita maxima species.
According to the All About Pumpkins website, pumpkins were introduced to the Pilgrims by the Native Americans. The pumpkin became an important food source for the Pilgrims because they stored well. Pumpkins were served at the second Thanksgiving celebration. Today, many of us look forward to the pumpkin pie we will eat after our family has finished their Thanksgiving dinner.
Image by callista1172 on Flickr