Pumpkin, Cucurbita: “The Horseman’s Head”
From Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow to Harry Potter to Cinderella’s coach, a squash somehow has managed to carve out a permanent place for itself in our mythology of magic and superstition. What separates a pumpkin from its less glamorous relatives in the thick-skinned winter squash family?
Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Scientists have spent decades deciding that the answer lies in the stem–a true pumpkin has a prickly stem set at a 5-degree angle from the yellowy orange fruit. And yet. The pumpkin hails from humble roots: from the Greek word pepon meaning “large melon” (the settlers who discovered the North American native plant believed it to be an estranged cousin of the European cantaloupe).
Above: Photograph by Christine Chitnis for Gardenista.
Best Jack-o-lantern? The Connecticut Field pumpkin. Most delicious: sugar pumpkin. (Save the seeds to plant in spring.)
Or buy pumpkin seed now to plant next May. The best varieties? See our post 10 Easy Pieces: Best Pumpkins to Plant for Next Halloween.
- Edible, yes, but also ornamental. Let a pumpkin’s long vine hang like a necklace over the edge of a garden bed.
- Grow colorful flowers next to pumpkins to attract more bees and butterflies.
- White, black, and blue pumpkins can do double duty as Halloween and Thanksgiving decor (if you don’t carve them, they won’t rot).
Keep It Alive
- Plant seeds in late May or early June.
- Likes full sun and heavy (but infrequent) watering.
- Vines need from 20 to 30 feet of space to spread.
Above: A classic carving pumpkin is Charisma. Photograph by Janet Hall.
Grow pumpkin from seed and allow vines to trail; if you allow a pumpkin plant plenty of room to grow–that means from 20 to 30 feet of space–you will have beautiful blossoms in summer, as well as plenty of candidates for snaggle-toothed Jack-o-lanterns in October.