Pumpkin species belong to the genus Cucurbita. There are five species that are commonly referred to as pumpkins: Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita argyrosperma, and Cucurbita ficifolia. The word “pumpkin” is a vernacular term commonly referring to a round-shaped winter squash.
Introduction to pumpkin species
Pumpkins are rounded winter squash fruits from the gourd genus Cucurbita. There are 18 accepted species within the genus (source: Kew). Of these 18 species, five species contain varieties that are commonly referred to as pumpkins.
Here are the five species of pumpkins:
- Cucurbita pepo
- Cucurbita maxima
- Cucurbita moschata
- Cucurbita argyrosperma
- Cucurbita ficifolia
Most pumpkins used for Halloween decor, like jack-o’-lanterns, are of the Cucurbita pepo species or the Cucurbita maxima species. Varieties of the Cucurbita moschata are also popular as heirloom ornamental pumpkins and culinary pumpkins. The species Cucurbita argyrosperma and Cucurbita ficifolia are far less commonly found than the first three species. Of the hundreds of named varieties of pumpkin, most fall into the first three species categories.
The term “pumpkin” is a vernacular term with no technical botanical meaning. It may derive from an anglicized version of a Greek term for “melon-shaped squash”. In botany, squash/pumpkins are fruits categorized as a berry known as a “pepo”.
1. Cucurbita pepo
Cucurbita pepo is a popular species of pumpkin used most commonly for autumn decor and Halloween jack-o’-lanterns. This species is native to Mexico and has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years.
Here are some pumpkin varieties that belong to the species Cucurbita pepo:
- Sugar Pie
- Connecticut Field
- Winter Luxury
- Long Pie
- Baby Bear
The Cucurbita pepo species also includes many popular types of squash, including zucchini, acorn squash, and spaghetti squash.
Three subspecies are recognised:
- Cucurbita pepo subsp. pepo (known only in cultivation)
- Cucurbita pepo subsp. texana (known in cultivation and in the wild in southeastern USA)
- Cucurbita pepo subsp. fraterna (known only in the wild in northeastern Mexico)
Kew Species Profiles: Cucurbita pepo
2. Cucurbita maxima
Cucurbita maxima is a species of pumpkin that’s perhaps best known for its giant pumpkin cultivars. Giant pumpkins are almost always Cucurbita maxima varieties. Many popular heirloom cultivars used for decor also fall into this species category.
This is a highly variable species and includes quite a few different types of pumpkins and squashes. The native range of Cucurbita maxima is in South America, from Bolivia to Northern Argentina.
Here are some pumpkin varieties that belong to the species Cucurbita maxima:
The Cucurbita maxima pumpkin species also includes many popular types of squash, including Hubbard, buttercup, red kuri, candy roaster, Tokyo blue, and Japanese kabocha.
3. Cucurbita moschata
Cucurbita moschata is a species of pumpkin used for gourmet culinary applications and also for fall decor. Some heirloom ornamental pumpkins also belong to this species.
The native range of Cucurbita moschata extends from Mexico to Guatemala. Pumpkin plants of this species tend to be quite tolerant of hot climates and naturally resistant to common pests and diseases.
Here are some pumpkin varieties that belong to the species Cucurbita moschata:
The Cucurbita moschata species also includes many popular types of squash, including butternut, tromboncino, zucchino rampicante, and Naples long squash.
4. Cucurbita argyrosperma
Cucurbita argyrosperma is a species of squash that contains a few rounded varieties referred to as pumpkins. This species is native to Central America, from Mexico to Nicaragua.
Here are some pumpkin varieties that belong to the species Cucurbita argyrosperma:
- Jonathan pumpkin
- Japanese pie pumpkin
The Cucurbita argyrosperma species consists mainly of veggies we refer to as squash, including the green-striped cushaw and the orange-striped cushaw.
5. Cucurbita ficifolia
Cucurbita ficifolia is an uncommon species of squash. This species is native to the South American countries of Peru and Bolivia.
Named cultivars are not commercially available. Cucurbita ficifolia is commonly referred to as Asian pumpkin, Malabar gourd, black-seeded squash, and fig-leaf gourd.