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Desert Diary


What would Thanksgiving in the United States be without pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce? Certainly not the holiday of tradition. Now, our Chihuahuan Desert can't claim any part of the cranberry, more's the pity, but the pumpkin has long been a staple. Indeed, it was one of several crops under domestication in the New World long before Columbus was a gleam in his mother's eye. Excavations in Mexico suggest they were being raised as early as 8,000 BC.

Bearing the scientific name of Cucurbita pepo, this member of the cucumber family lends meaning to the word "biodiversity". It is not only the familiar orange object made for Thanksgiving pies and Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, but squashes and gourds galore. The yellow crookneck summer squash, the over-prolific zucchini, and the acorn squash are just a few to share the name. A close relative, Pepo maximus, is a pumpkin that has grown large enough to claim the world's record for the size of a fruit, with a weight of well over 1000 lbs. With bounty like this, who needs cranberry sauce?
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


The traditional, orange pumpkin, ready for processing: jack-o'-lantern or pie?



Desai, U.T., and A. M. Musmade. 1998. Pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. Pp. 273-297, in Handbook of Vegetable Science and Technology: Production, Composition, Storage, and Processing (D.K. Salunkhe and S.S. Kadam, eds.). Marcel Dekker, Inc., NY.

Web Resources

Squashes in general and pumpkin