HERB - the period pumpkin

khkeeler kkeeler at unlinfo.unl.edu
Wed Apr 29 06:09:30 PDT 1998

RAISYA wrote:
> I've been working on figuring out what the period pumpkin is, and I'd like to
> hear from other people.
> There's an illumination of the period pumpkin in the 14th century TACUINUM
> SANITATIS.  Both the leaves and fruit of the plant look like a butternut
> squash.  The modern pumpkin and most squash belong to Cucurbita pepo and
> Cucurbita maxima which originated in N. and S. America, while the butternut
> squash belongs to Cucurbita moschata.  <snip>
> I think the butternut squash makes the most sense, but maybe there's something
> I haven't come across.  Has anyone else looked into this?
> Raisya Khorivovna
My sources are NW Simmonds, Evolution of crop plants (Longman 1976), JF
Hancock, Plant evolution and the origin of crop species (Prentice Hall
1992), BB Simpson and MC Ogorzaly Economic botany: plants in our world
(McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed. 1995).

As you say, New World plants are Cucurbita pepo (summer squash, marrow,
pumpkin, zuccini, acorn squash, crookneck, spaghetti, ornamental
squashes), but also C. moschata (winter squash, butternut squash,
pumpkin), C. maxima (winter squash, pumpkin, winter marrow), C. mixta
(winter squash, hubbard squash, turban squash, pumpkin), C. ficifolia
(fig-leaf gourd).  Simpson and Ogorzaly suggest ways to distinguish the
above (p. 126).

Totally separate and much more complicated are Old World members of this
family (Cucurbitaceae). Cucumis sativus (cucumber) originally from
India, Cucumis melo (muskmelon, cantalope) Africa, India,  Citrullus
lanatus (watermelon) South Africa , Languinaria siceraria
(white-flowered gourd) Africa, the Americas, luffa (Luffa acutangula, L.
cylindrica) Asia.
Watermelons are very old:  appear in Dioscorides, were being grown in
China by 1200 AD
Cucumis melo doesn't occur in Egyptian or Greek writing, does in texts
from the end of the Roman empire--current varieties include cantaloupe,
Perisan, musk, Cranshaw and honeydew melons
Cucumbers are known from ancient Egypt, were widely dispersed across the
white-flowered gourd - known from Ecuador and Peru 7,000 yrs ago, Egypt
3,000 yrs ago- currently thought to be a natural disjunction with the
plant naturally occurring both places.
Simpson and Ogorzaly call the Old World cucurbits "dessert foods", the
New World "staple foods" which fits the distribution given above.  But
is a problem for interpretting Period pumpkins.
On the other hand, the Simmonds book makes a casual reference to a firm,
hard greenish watermelon called citron, used for feeding livestock (but,
likely in S. Africa)- so there may be more varieties of these fruits
than my sources deal with.
  Good question, I'll see what less direct references suggest.   
Agnes deLanvallei, Mag Mor, Calontir
mka Kathy Keeler
kkeeler1 at unl.edu
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