Curcurbita pepo L. (common names include vegetable marrow, field pumpkin, and summer squash) is a herbaceous plant from the Family Curcurbitaceae that is cultivated for both food and medicinal purposes. C. pepo was first cultivated in Mesoamerica, but is presently grown in many places around the world. C. pepo is perhaps best known for its fruits; the five varieties of this species produce a wide range of fruits including zuchinni, gourds, summer squash, and pumpkins (see Curcurbita pepo for photos of the variety of fruit shapes and colors).
C. pepo is an annual plant that grows as vines or small bushes, with prickly conspicuously-lobed leaves. The large, showy flowers are pollinated by insects, mostly bees. The flowers are monoecious, meaning that flowers are unisexual but flowers of both sexes can be produced on the same plant. Their fruits are classified as pepos, which are berries with a hard outer covering.
Uses of Cucurbita pepo
Almost all parts of the plant can be consumed as food. The fruits can be used as a vegetable or can be used as the base for making savory dishes, soups, breads, or deserts. Seeds are eaten either raw or cooked, ground into a powder and mixed with flour to make bread, or sprouted and eaten in salads. Leaves, young stems, flowers, and buds are also eaten.
This species is a notable one for its appearance at many harvest festivals throughout the world, particularly in the American holiday feasts of Thanksgiving.
In parts of Central and North America C. pepo has been used to treat tapeworms, hypertrophy of the prostate, urinary problems, and burns.
The seeds contain an oil that can be burned in lamps to produce light.
For centuries people have carved pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns, as part of the Halloween celebration. Pumpkins are also used for decorations to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States and Canada. More generally pumpkins along with a variety of gourd fruits are employed as table decorations in autumnal and harvest festivals worldwide.
References and Further Reading
- Curcurbita pepo Missouri Botanical Garden
- Cucurbita pepo Plants For A Future
- Curcurbita pepo Encyclopedia of Life
- Curcubita pepo Curcurbit.org
- Pumpkins and More