Field of pumpkins

Pumpkin: History and Description

  Nothing signals the arrival of autumn more so than pumpkin. This fall, millions of families will make an annual pilgrimage to a retail outlet to purchase them.
While many people throughout the world use pumpkin as a staple in their daily diet, in the United States it is primarily used for decoration. Halloween and Thanksgiving just would not be complete without pumpkins to add a festive air to the observation of these two events.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word pumpkin derives from the Ancient Greek word πέπων (Romanized pepōn), meaning 'melon'. Under this theory, the term transitioned through the Latin word peponem and the Middle French word pompon to the Early Modern English pompion, which was changed to pumpkin by 17th-century English colonists, shortly after encountering pumpkins upon their arrival in what is now the northeastern United States.

  Brief History

Pumpkin (Winter Squash)
Cucurbita spp.
Zones 2-11
Height 0.75 to 1.50 feet
Spread 10 -12 feet
Bloom July to August
Sun Full sun
Water Medium
Flower Showy
Fruit Edible

Archeological evidence suggests that pumpkins and winter squash are native to the Americas from the southwestern part of what is now the United States through Mexico and Central America and south into Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

Pumpkins have been cultivated since about 3500 B.C. rivaling it with maize (corn) as one of the oldest known crops in the western hemisphere. Native Americans are said to have roasted long strips of pumpkin on an open fire and then consumed them. They also dried pumpkin strips and wove them into mats.

Columbus was known to have taken pumpkin seeds back to Europe on one of his excursions. However, pumpkins are warm season vegetables that require a relative long growing season. Thus, they never have gained popularity in northern Europe and the British Isles where the summer temperatures are not conducive to their growth.

Presumably, American colonists relied heavily on pumpkin as a food source. One way colonists are thought to have prepared pumpkins was to slice off their tops, remove the seeds and refill the inside with a mixture of milk, spices and honey. The resultant concoction was baked in hot ashes and is said to be the origin of our modern pumpkin pie.

  Are Pumpkins A Berry?

Pumpkin flower.

Pumpkin fits the criteria of what a berry is. Berry defines it as a “simple, fleshy fruit that usually has many seeds.” So does it mean that pumpkin is a fruit? Absolutely! Berries are a subcategory of fruit that is more general than “berry.”

A pumpkin cannot be classified as a vegetable since the edible parts of a plant are the leaves, stems, and roots.

Pumpkins are NOT a vegetable because it has at least one seed. Vegetables typically have a savory flavor and are defined as edible plant parts lacking seeds. They usually have roots, stems, flowers, bulbs, or leaves, so leafy greens, yams, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, and asparagus are all vegetables.


Pumpkins are heat-loving plants and should not be planted until the soil has thoroughly warmed in the spring. When planting pumpkins seeds, select a location with good soil that is well-drained and has few perennial weeds.

Avoid areas that have received herbicides the previous year aimed at broad-leaf weed control since these compound can carry over to the following year.

Pumpkins are vigorous growers and heavy feeders that require adequate nutrition to produce a good crop. The ideal soil pH for pumpkin production is between 6.0 and 6.5.

Growing pumpkin plant with small fruit and flower.

Spacing pumpkins depends upon variety. Most of the older, large-fruited varieties produce very vigorous vines that can spread up to 18 feet. Traditionally, these types are spaced 12 to 15 feet between rows and 2 to 4 feet between plants within the rows. Newer, semi-dwarf varieties can be planted in rows 9 to 12 feet apart with plants 2 feet apart within the rows.

Because of their lush vegetative growth, pumpkins are prone to insect and disease infestation. Squash bug, squash vine borer, cucumber beetle and aphids are some of the more troublesome insects that attack pumpkins.

Problematic diseases of pumpkins include powdery mildew, angular leaf spot, black rot, gummy stem blight, mosaic virus and bacterial wilt. Strict sanitation including the removal or turning under of all plant residues between crops is the first line of defense against disease infestation. Following that, preventative fungicides (e.g. chlorothalonil) are very effective in protecting pumpkins from disease problems caused by fungi.

Weeds tend to reduce both yield and quality of pumpkins by competing for sun, water and plant nutrients. Additional to the use of mulch, hand cultivation during the early stages of growth is essential for good weed control.

Harvesting pumpkins at full maturity is essential for high quality and good storage life. Maturity occurs when the shell (rind) has completely hardened. Fruits destined for storage should be allowed to undergo a curing process after harvesting by exposing them for about two weeks to temperatures in the 75 to 85 degree F. range along with good air circulation.

Avoid waiting until after a hard frost to harvest pumpkins since this will adversely affect storage. A portion of the stem (i.e., the “handle”) should be left attached to the pumpkin since this usually makes them more decorative.

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