Squash or Pumpkin?

Community Contributed

By Glenn I. Teves, County Extension Agent

In Hawaii, we call pumpkins squash, and squash pumpkins, and understandably so. They’re related and include several species of tropical gourds native to the Americas, both north and south, and even in the Caribbean. They come in greens, brown, oranges and stripes; in all shapes and sizes: bumpy, ribbed and smooth with some shaped like papayas and pears. Some can weigh over 1,500 pounds! These vines were grown extensively by the native peoples of these areas, and many American natives had their own varieties, including Lakota, Seminole, Arikara, and Cherokee.

There are three main species of Cucurbita or squash, including moschata, pepo and maxima.  The species moschata includes butternut, calabaza or Carribean squash, field pumpkins, winter squash and others. The species pepo includes zucchini, crookneck, acorn, patty, delicate, and some pumpkins also have this species in them. The species maxima include the banana, buttercup, kabocha, Lakota, hubbard and all giant pumpkins. The present world record for the biggest pumpkin is held by Chris Stevens of Minnesota, weighing in at 1,810 pounds! 

Most of the squashes can interbreed and many are combinations of more than one species.  True to our melting pot, many varieties introduced to Hawaii have interbred, and some families have special strains they’ve held for generations. Squashes are very popular in the Filipino, Puerto Rican and Japanese communities, where many selections or land races can be found.  Brought with them to Hawaii, I’ve heard stories of people sneaking a special variety through U.S. Customs between their toes hoping to get a few plants to grow. The Spanish introduced squash to the Philippines via the Americas, while many of the kabocha types naturalized in Japan were originally from the Americas.

Almost all of the species produce vining plants with a few exceptions, including zucchini, bush kabocha and bush butternut.  A favorite bush kabocha is Sweet Mama, a space saver for small yards.  The young shoots and also flowers can be eaten as fresh and blanched vegetable in salads.  In Hawaii, these are important crops from the standpoint of food security because they can be stored for several months. Many are high in Vitamin A, E, C and fiber, and some are also high in potassium.

Summer is the best time to grow them since they love the heat if given sufficient water. They’re also heavy nitrogen feeders and should be fed well especially when young.  One of the main disease problems is a fungus called powdery mildew that affects the leaves and slows its growth. There are some species with tolerance to this disease and more breeding work needs to be done to further develop this important food crop for Hawaii.  Fruit flies, especially the melon fly can be a problem, but some varieties can withstand damage due to their hard shell.  A viral disease called silver leaf, spread by whiteflies can limit productivity, but again, some selections can withstand damage more than others. 

By having this important gene pool on Molokai, we can preserve it by planting more and sharing seeds with others so more people can grow them. By planting two different types next to each other, or even crossing them by hand pollinating, you may be pleasantly surprised to find a new variety from the seed you saved. The light green hyotan or bottle gourd, and the dark green or green with white flecked togan or winter melon are related but from a different family of cucurbits.


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