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Cucurbita pepo is a species of squash (family Cucurbitaceae, the gourd or cucumber family) endemic to the New World that includes many common kitchen squash varieties including acorn squash, pumpkin, zucchini, and pattypans (see types listed below). Archeological evidence shows it to be one of the world’s earliest domesticated species, first cultivated between 8000-10,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, probably southern Mexico (Smith 1997; Decker 1988). Many molecular studies have investigated the controversial origin of C. pepo and relationship to its two closest relatives, C. fraternal and C. texana (Sanjur et al. 2002; Decker-Walters et al. 2003).
A broad diversity of inter-fertile C. pepo varieties and subspecies resulted from this 10,000 year cultivation period, producing fruits with such a vast array of different forms, colors and textures that the types are often misidentified as distinct species. These fruits include summer squashes (e.g. zucchini and pattypan), which are eaten as immature fruits with tender skin and soft seeds and winter squashes (e.g.pumpkins and acorn squash) harvested in the fall as mature fruits with tough skin and hardened seeds which are usually removed prior to eating the fruit’s flesh. There are also several varieties of inedible gourds exhibiting terrific range in shape, colors, texture and size. Based primarily on fruit shape, Paris (1986) proposed a list of eight basic edible groups and one group of inedible gourds, into which almost all varieties of C. pepo can be classified (listed below; Wikipedia 2013).
Cucurbita pepo grows as a large annual vine, historically in areas from sea level up to 2000 m. (6500 ft.) in altitude. It has large, showy, yellow-orange, insect-pollinated flowers and round, lobed leaves, often with fine hairy prickles. Like all species in the family, it is frost-sensitive. Various parts of C. pepo plants are edible including the fruit, flowers, young leaves and seeds, and it is an agricultural species of great importance, cultivated around the world. Seeds, leaves, sap and pulp have long been used for medicinal purposes including treatment of intestinal worms, urinary issues, and poultices for burns. The vines and fruit are used as fodder for livestock, and gourds used for a vast array of ornamental, traditional and functional purposes (Kew 2013; Saade and Montes Hernandez 1994; Wikipedia 2013).
Summer squash Cucurbita pepo cultivars include:
•crookneck (var. torticollia),
•straightneck (var. recticollis),
•scallop (var. clypeata),
•zucchini (var. cylindrica),
•cocozzelle (var. longa),
•vegetable marrow (var. fastigata; some forms of this variety, such as spaghetti squash, are winter squashes)
Winter squash Cucurbita pepo cultivars include:
•pumpkin (var. pepo),
•acorn squash (var. turbinata)
C. pepo var. ovifera (egg-shaped, pear-shaped),
C. pepo var. aurantia (orange color),
C. pepo var. verrucosa (round warty gourds),
C. pepo var. texana ornamental gourds found in Texas (sometimes considered a distinct species, C. texana, this form is possibly the ancestor of C. pepo, although the genetics are complicated and debated),
C. pepo var. ozarkana ornamental gourds found outside of Texas (Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana)