Post-Halloween Pumpkin Ponderings

Ever wonder why pumpkins are so popular in the fall? Photo by liz west. Pumpkins. CC. https://flic.kr/p/5msURe

Ever wonder why pumpkins are so popular in the fall? Photo by liz west. Pumpkins. CC. https://flic.kr/p/5msURe

Let’s face it. As food, fresh pumpkins are not popular. In Canada they have a week or two of glory alongside the bulk candy corn and bat-shaped gummies. As thousands of jack-o’-lanterns are sent to the compost today, I look into the history and botany of pumpkins.

Family matters

Okay, first things first. Pumpkins are fruit. They belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, which has a nice ring to it if you like Latin. This family includes pumpkins, squash and gourds. Generally, pumpkins are carved, squash are cooked, and gourds are bumpy decorations.

Origin story

Out of the darkness, a delicious fruit will arise. Photo by DeusXFlorida. Halloween Pumpkins at the field. CC.https://flic.kr/p/8NNSeK

Out of the darkness, a delicious fruit will arise. Photo by DeusXFlorida. Halloween Pumpkins at the field. CC.https://flic.kr/p/8NNSeK


Just like corn and tomatoes, pumpkins are from Mexico. The name comes from Greek word ‘pepon’, which means ‘large melon’.

Like a lot of good stuff to eat, pumpkins made their way north. When the Pilgrims arrived in North America, the aboriginal peoples they met were already growing pumpkins and roasting them over the fire. They also used dried strips to make mats.

Thoroughly convinced of their deliciousness, the colonists started popped pumpkins into stews, soups and desserts. Legend has it that pumpkin pie was invented when someone decided to bake a hollowed-out pumpkin filled with milk, spices and honey. The colonists even made pumpkin beer! They brewed it with hops, persimmons and maple sugar.

Pumpkin eaters

Pumpkin pie, the Thanksgiving favorite. Photo by Jo. CC.  https://flic.kr/p/aDMSUR

Pumpkin pie, the Thanksgiving favorite. Photo by Jo. CC. https://flic.kr/p/aDMSUR

From North America pumpkins made their way to Europe. There it’s served as a vegetable. As we know, in Canada and the U.S. it’s served in pies, muffins, soups and lattes. Oh, wait. There’s actually no pumpkin in pumpkin spice lattes.

Pumpkins are good eating! They’re full of vitamin A and potassium. The flowers are edible too, if you can get them. Pumpkins are also used to feed livestock.

Halloween, or Christmas 2.1

Most of the pumpkins grown in North America turn into Jack-O'-Lanterns. Photo by Clinton Steeds. Pumpkin Carving in the Park. CC. https://flic.kr/p/9cRyQQ

Most of the pumpkins grown in North America turn into Jack-O’-Lanterns. Photo by Clinton Steeds. Pumpkin Carving in the Park. CC. https://flic.kr/p/9cRyQQ

When it comes to spending money on decorations, Halloween is close on the heels of Christmas. In Canada, 90 per cent of the pumpkin crop is sold fresh to be turned into jack-o’-lanterns. Less than 10 per cent is canned. This would explain why the canned pumpkin I purchase is so expensive.

In response to growing decorating demand, pumpkin production in the last 20 years has been increasing. Canada’s crop is worth over $15 million, and is an important source of income for many growers.

Jack-o’-turnip?

This is the scariest Jack-O'-Lantern I've ever seen. It must be the shrunken head look. Photo by IrishFireside. Jack-O-Lantern. CC. https://flic.kr/p/8jEbmP

This is the scariest Jack-O’-Lantern I’ve ever seen. It must be the shrunken head look. Photo by IrishFireside. Jack-O-Lantern. CC. https://flic.kr/p/8jEbmP

The tradition of carving a face in a fruit (which you have to admit, is a little bit odd) comes to us from Ireland and Scotland.

An Irish myth tells of a man named Jack so deceitful that neither heaven nor hell would let him in. His soul was doomed to wander the earth carrying a lantern carved out of a turnip. Yes, you heard right. A turnip.

To keep Jack of the Lantern away, people carved scary faces in vegetables and put them in their windows to scare him away. Europe being pumpkin-less at the time, they used turnips, potatoes and beets instead.

Immigrants brought the Celtic holiday to North America, where it grew to be the commercial scare-fest we see today.

Pumpkins are needy

Every vine produces one or two pumpkins. Notice how far apart they are. Photo by kmadird.CC. https://flic.kr/p/ayicVw

Every vine produces one or two pumpkins. Notice how far apart they are. Photo by kmadird.CC. https://flic.kr/p/ayicVw

For Canadian farmers growing this subtropical plant can be tricky.

Pumpkins love heat and they need space. If it’s too cold they will only produce male flowers, which don’t become fruit. If they are crowded, they produce smaller fruit.

In addition to this neediness, each plant only produces 1-2 large pumpkins. Miniature pumpkin varieties, which nauseating names like ‘Baby Boo’, ‘Sweetie Pie’, ‘Jack-Be-Little’ and ‘Munchkin’, produce 12-15 fruit per plant.

The bee dance

This is one demanding female flower, looking for lots of bee love. Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol. Yellow-Pumpkin-Flowers_59053. CC. https://flic.kr/p/bvuSum

This is one demanding female flower, looking for lots of bee love. Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol. Yellow-Pumpkin-Flowers_59053. CC. https://flic.kr/p/bvuSum


In keeping with their neediness, female pumpkin flowers need to be pollinated at least 15 times to produce fruit. That’s right, 15 times!

Unfortunately, bees don’t like visiting pumpkin flowers because the blooms are too far apart. In addition, there has 10 male flowers for every female flower, which further reduces the chance a bee will visit a female flower.

To add to the stakes, a female flower is only open for one day, usually from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s a wonder we have any pumpkins at all!

References

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/pumpkin/
http://napavalleyregister.com/lifestyles/food-and-cooking/not-just-for-halloween-pumpkin-is-a-staple-of-fall/article_b72c05c6-4853-51a4-a892-3ce1cad031fa.html
http://urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkins/history.cfm
http://urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkins/facts.cfm
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/298713/jack-o-lantern
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/483389/pumpkin
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/252875/Halloween
http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/00-031.htm

Who wants to get pollinated? Delightful Daylilies!

Ever seen one of these by the side of the road? They're garden flowers gone wild!Photo by Ralph Daily, Dayliliy, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ralphandjenny/7192088348/

Ever seen one of these by the side of the road? These garden flowers have gone wild!Photo by Ralph Daily, Dayliliy, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ralphandjenny/7192088348/

I just got back from an adventure in France and the Netherlands, so sorry I haven’t posted in a while. You’ll probably see some photos of the neat flora and fauna I saw there in the near future. It was great to be unplugged for a bit, but now I’m back at the blog!

About a month ago I visited ‘Les Jardins d’Emmarocalles” a garden in Quebec that showcases “les hemerocalles”. I knew that these were flowers, but I had no idea what kind. Once we arrived it became clear that ‘les hemerocalles’ are daylilies. We spent the afternoon picnicking among daylilies of all of shapes, sizes and colours. As you can imagine, there were bees everywhere! I overheard this conversation near a relatively inconspicuous orange daylily.

Bee: Boy, am I hungry! Which flower should I visit first? Decisions, decisions!

Day lily: Oh, oh, pick me, pick me!

B: No thanks. You’re a lily. I don’t like lilies.

D: Now, that’s not fair. I’m only distantly related to lilies. Just because we look the same doesn’t mean we’re related. It’s what’s inside that counts. I’m quite offended.

B: You’re sure you’re not a lily? I mean, humans even call you “Daylilies”

D: Who are you going to believe, me or some human? For ages they thought we belonged to Liliaceae, the Lily family. However, lately they finally figured out DNA and now I’m in a different family entirely, Hermerocallidoideae! So no, I’m not a lily!

B: Huh. Well if you’re not a lily, why do you look like one?

D: Let me give you an example. Sharks and dolphins have similar body shapes, but one’s a fish and the other is a mammal. When two living things develop the same body shape to do the same job, it’s called convergent evolution. For sharks and dolphins, it’s swimming quickly though the water. For me and lilies, it’s attracting pollinators. If there’s already a shape that works, why reinvent the wheel?

B: Okay, that makes sense. Wait a second, you’re a plant .You can’t move. How do you know about sharks and dolphins?

D: The neighbor across the road has a big screen TV and always watches Discovery channel.

B: Ah. Why are you called Daylily then if you’re not a lily?

D: Because my flowers only bloom for one day.

B: That doesn’t seem like the best way to get pollinated. If I’d missed you today, you’d be out of luck!

D: Not at all! Each flower only blooms for a day, but each of my flower stalks has 10-50 flower buds. I’ll be blooming for a long time yet! In fact, I’ll also bloom again in a month’s time. But pollination isn’t the be all end all. I have…other…ways of reproducing.

B: Yah? Do tell!

D: Instead of blubs, like true lilies, I have an underground root system that can spawn new plants. This is similar to what strawberries do. We like company, so we have a tendency of forming large clumps and taking over any place that we’re planted. We’re awesome and we know it.

B: I knew I’d seen you somewhere before! You’re that orange flower that blooms along the highway in the summer! There’s so many of you. You must be native to Canada, right?

D: Nope. We’re actually native to China, Korea and Japan.

B: Whoa, you’re a long way from home! What are you doing in Canada?

D: It’s kind of a long story.

B: Tell me, I love stories.

D: Okay, if you insist. The earliest reference to us comes from China in 2697 BC. At that time we had about 30 wild species, and we only came in red, orange and yellow. We were completely happy living in Asia, but humans had other ideas. In 1596 they brought us to England. Orange lilies like me were carried over to the US in the late 1800s. Pioneers liked us because we look beautiful without much fussing. We don’t get sick, we resist pests, and we’ll grow in almost any type of soil and climate, from Canada to California. All we need is some sun.

B: Okay, so how did you get from pioneer gardens to highway ditches?

D: We escaped! We’re so good at surviving in North America that we can grow and spread on our own. In fact, in some states we’re considered a noxious weed. That’s the price of success, I guess.

B: I guess so! So what species of daylily are you? You look…frillier…than the ones I see on the side of the road.

D: Goodness, humans have done so much breeding I don’t know what species I am anymore! In the early 1900 they decided they wanted bigger, brighter, and more colourful daylilies. And what humans want, humans generally get. Now we come in over 70,000 varieties, and in every colour of the rainbow except white and blue.

B: Wow, they must really like you!

D: Yup, I’m pretty popular. They like me in their gardens, but they don’t take advantage of my good looks in a bouquet. I don’t know why, because I’d be good at that. Is something wrong?

B: Sorry, I’m a little distracted. Your petals…they’re, they’re sparkling!

D: Yep, humans call this Diamond dusting. There are tiny crystals in our cells that make our petals sparkle! Only a few varieties have this trait. Pick me, I’m so fancy!

B: That aphid’s certainly picked you. Want me to brush her off?

D: Ewww, yes please! Interestingly enough, that species of aphid only feeds on daylilies. Aren’t we special? Slugs and snails also like to munch on our leaves.

B: Do you have other special characteristics?

D: Well, I happen to be a tetroploid.

B: A tetra-what-now?
D: It means I have four sets of chromosomes instead of just two. Originally daylilies had 22 chromosomes. In 1960s, breeders discovered they could double this number by treating us with colchicine, a chemical from a crocus. If a human had double the chromosomes, they would be in major trouble, but plants are special. For daylilies, the more DNA, the better! Daylilies with 44 chromosomes have larger, thicker petals and brighter colours. Nature is strange sometimes.

B: Indeed it is. Well, after that great story, it’s the least I can do to pollinate you.

D: Works every time!

References:

A Great Visual daylily dictionary. Click each part to see detailed photos and definitions http://www.daylilies.org/ahs_dictionary/ImageMap.html

http://www.canadiangardening.com/plants/perennials/falling-for-daylilies/a/1808/3
http://www.canadiangardening.com/plants/perennials/falling-for-daylilies/a/1808
http://www.daylilies.org/AHSFAQsNew.html
http://www.mikesbackyardgarden.org/daylilygen.html
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/153082/daylily
http://eol.org/pages/1000843/overview
https://www.canadapost.ca/cpo/mc/personal/collecting/stamps/2012/2012_mar_daylilies.jsf
http://www.daylilydiary.com/gardenH.htm
http://www.heirloomorchardist.com/the_heirloom_orchardist/the-heirloom-daylily-or-day-lily.html
http://www.heirloomorchardist.com/the_heirloom_orchardist/the-heirloom-daylily-or-day-lily.html
http://taglilien-hemerocallis.de/history_en.html

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow lab bench to park bench on WordPress.com

Previous Posts

July 2020
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

%d bloggers like this: