Pumpkin and squash belong to the same plant family. While knowledge of pumpkin plant classification can seem obscure, pumpkins and squashes actually share almost the same genetic makeup, each one with their own set of subspecies.
Pumpkin and Squash
Pumpkin and squash, along with some gourds, are members of the large Cucurbitaceae family, and both are characterized for being mostly annual vine plants that produce large, fleshy fruits, with both male and female flowers and large, flat seeds.
The truth is that pumpkins and squashes have essentially the same genetic composition, and the two names could, in theory, be used interchangeably. In practice, however, tradition commonly dictates which name is used for each plant. The word pumpkin, for example, usually refers to the large, orange, spherically-shaped fruits, typically used for jack-o-lanterns and to make pies. Squash refers to their smaller, gray or greenish counterparts.
Squashes can be divided into two main sub-categories: summer squash and winter squash. Summer squashes are tender like zucchini, pattypan, crookneck, and straightneck squash. Small hubbard, miniature pumpkin, and banana, acorn, and spaghetti squash varieties are all considered hard-skinned winter squashes.
Squashes are also closely related to plants like cucumbers and watermelon, which also share the same plant family.
Genetic Variations Related to Pumpkin and Squash
All pumpkins are squashes, but human domestication has, over time, contributed to the many variations that exist. Professional botanists have studied the distinctive colors, stalks, seeds, and leaf patterns to determine the different species. Three main genetic variations of squash exist: Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, and C. pepo.
Cucurbita maxima usually produces big fruits with hard seeds and round thick stems. It is typically harvested in the fall. C. moschata also has round stems and is a winter squash, while C. pepo is a summer squash known for its pentagonal, prickly stems, soft skin, and edible seeds.
Pumpkin and squash are both cucurbits, closely-related species that belong to the same genus, Cucurbita. In the U.S., the only common linguistic difference between squashes and pumpkins has to do with their color, shape, and size. As a part of the diverse Cucurbitaceae family, pumpkin and squash have essentially the same botanical makeup and produce a variety of unique genetic variations.
- Library of Congress, Everyday Mysteries, How did the squash get its name?
- University of Georgia, Extension Office, Squash
- Missouri Botanical Garden, Horticulture Questions and Answers
- Purdue University, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Squash, pumpkins & gourds | Cucurbits
- University of California, Cucurbitaceae – Fruits for peons, pilgrims, and pharaohs