Cucurbita (Latin for gourd) is a genus of herbaceous vines in the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae (also known as cucurbits or cucurbi) native to the Andes and Mesoamerica. Five species are grown worldwide for their edible fruit, variously known as squash, pumpkin, or gourd, depending on species, variety, and local parlance, and for their seeds. Other kinds of gourd, also called bottle-gourds, are native to Africa and belong to the genus Lagenaria, which is in the same family and subfamily as Cucurbita, but in a different tribe. These other gourds are used as utensils or vessels, and their young fruits are eaten much like those of Cucurbita species.
|Cucurbita fruits come in an assortment of colors and sizes.|
Most Cucurbita species are herbaceous vines that grow several meters in length and have tendrils, but non-vining "bush" cultivars of C. pepo and C. maxima have also been developed. The yellow or orange flowers on a Cucurbita plant are of two types: female and male. The female flowers produce the fruit and the male flowers produce pollen. Many North and Central American species are visited by specialist bee pollinators, but other insects with more general feeding habits, such as honey bees, also visit.
There is debate about the taxonomy of the genus, as the number of accepted species varies from 13 to 30. The five domesticated species are Cucurbita argyrosperma, C. ficifolia, C. maxima, C. moschata, and C. pepo. All of these can be treated as winter squash because the full-grown fruits can be stored for months; however, C. pepo includes some cultivars that are better used only as summer squash.
The fruits of the genus Cucurbita are good sources of nutrients, such as vitamin A and vitamin C, among other nutrients according to species. The fruits have many culinary uses including pumpkin pie, biscuits, bread, desserts, puddings, beverages, and soups.