Is it a Pumpkin, Gourd or Squash?

What is the difference between a pumpkin and a squash? I need to know so I can impress all of my ghostly friends on Halloween.

There is much confusion about when to use the two terms. All squash, for example, in Australia are called pumpkins! Basically, the two names are used as generic terms to refer to many different forms of winter and summer squashes from the family Cucurbita.

Squash is usually divided into two categories:

Summer squash is picked young and has thin skin and soft flesh. Winter squash is left longer in the field or garden and has a hard skin (suitable for storing over the winter months) and flesh that is coarser. A pumpkin, therefore, is a variety of winter squash. There are many different varieties of pumpkins, several of which are associated with the Halloween Jack-o-Lantern.

The genetic history of the pumpkin is so intertwined with the squash and the gourd that it's sometimes difficult to tell them apart. Generally speaking a pumpkin is something you carve, a squash is something you cook and a gourd is something you look at. Though it's really not that simple, it's also not that difficult. The answer is in the stem.

Pumpkins and squashes and gourds all belong to the same genetic family - Cucurbita. Within that family are several species or subgroups - Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata.

The pepo species is usually recognized as the true pumpkin. Varieties within this group have bright orange skin and hard, woody, distinctly furrowed stems. But the group also includes gourds, vegetable marrow, Pattypan summer squash, scallop summer squash, gray and black zucchini and summer crookneck squash.

The maxima species also contains varieties that produce pumpkin-like fruit but the skin is usually more yellow than orange and the stems are soft and spongy or corky, without ridges and without an enlargement next to the fruit. They don't really make good handles for jack-o'-lanterns. Varieties such as Atlantic Giant, Big Max and Show King are often listed as pumpkins but are more properly called pumpkin-squash or squash- type pumpkins. Other members of the maxima group are Hubbard squashes, banana squashes, buttercup squashes and turban squashes - in short, most autumn and winter squash.

Finally, there's the moschata species. Varieties in this group are usually long and oblong instead of round and have tan rather than orange skin. The stems are deeply ridged and enlarged next to the fruit. Ironically, a member of this group is used for much of the canned pumpkin sold in this country. Other non-pumpkin members include the squash-like cushaw, winter crookneck squash and butternut squash.

Pumpkin Identification Chart

Here's a handy chart to help you identify some of the wonderful varieties of pumpkins and squash available in the fall. Pumpkins and squashes all originated in the New World and some of the 25 species have been grown for more than 9,000 years!

Acorn Squash

Chilacayote Squash

Butternut Squash

Cinderella Pumpkin

Sweet Dumpling Squash

Green Striped Kushaw

Green Hubbard Squash

Hubbard Squash

Kabocha Squash

Jack-o-Lantern Pumpkin

Jarrahdale

Lumina Pumpkin

Queensland Blue

Red Kuri Squash

Spaghetti Squash

Delicata Squash

Tahitian Pink Banana

Turban

 

Yellow Acorn Squash