pumpkin, common name for the genus Cucurbita of the family Cucurbitaceae (gourd family), a group that includes the pumpkins and squashes—the names may be used interchangeably and without botanical distinction. C. pepo, a species that includes varieties of pumpkin, vegetable marrow (a common European vegetable), and summer squash, has been cultivated so long that its wild form no longer exists and its place of origin is uncertain. If it is native to Asia it was introduced to America in prehistoric times; squashes, corn, and lima beans were the chief crops cultivated by pre-Columbian Native Americans. The pumpkin was among the fruits of the first Thanksgiving celebration of the Pilgrims; it has been a favorite pie filling for autumn festivities ever since, and its shell is carved into the Halloween jack-o'-lantern. The summer squashes include the pattypan, acorn, scallop, and summer crookneck squashes. Other squashes are varieties of C. moschata, including the crookneck squashes and the cheese pumpkin, and C. maxima, the winter squashes (e.g., the Hubbard and turban squashes), called pumpkins in Europe. Pumpkins are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Violales, family Cucurbitaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.