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The Science of Pumpkins

This article first appeared in the 11/29/19 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

The Science of Pumpkins

Pumpkins, photo by David R. Tribble

The Science of Pumpkins


By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise



Pumpkins are popular during fall and winter.  We carve them at Halloween, bake them into pies for holidays, and even use them as décor.  Pumpkins are part of the gourd family with squashes.  They are known as a winter crop, as they are harvested shortly before winter.  There are about 45 different varieties of pumpkin, and all have similar growing times. Pumpkin plants enjoy hot, dry days, but do not do well with cold weather a frost.  It is best to plant a pumpkin seed in mid-summer when it is hot and dry.  They can take between 90-120 days to mature, depending on the variety, which makes them ready to harvest right before the first frost of the year.


Pumpkins are a native plant to North America, and one of the earliest domesticated plants with evidence of its use as far back as 5000 BC.  Because of their abundance they are popular during fall festivals.  They are carved during Halloween to make spooky decorations.  This has also given rise to the phenomenon known as “decorative gourds”, with an increasing popularity of the “bumpy or warted” gourds has been steadily increasing over the decades.


Pumpkins are not just used for decorations but have a great number of uses in cooking.  Pumpkin pie is popular during Thanksgiving in both American and Canada.  One of the greatest aspects of pumpkins is that all parts of the plant are edible.  Most people just use the flesh to make puree, but the skin can also be eaten.  Pumpkin seeds are also often roasted and used as a snack during this time of year.  Even the leaves and flowers of the pumpkin vine can be used in cooking, being popular in areas of Korea and India.  Pumpkins also have a number of health benefits.  Pumpkins are rich in vitamin A which helps keep your eyes healthy, and they also have some vitamins C and E.  Pumpkins contain a lot of fiber and antioxidants, and are a low-calorie food on their own, but are often cooked with other foods that are not so healthy.  Although it has a number of health benefits, pumpkins are also a diuretic, so eating too much could cause too much water loss in the body.


Pumpkins have been around for thousands of years and have been a benefit to people for the same amount of time.  A very versatile plant that has a number of great health benefits as well as looking great decorating our homes during the fall and winter.


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