tree-logo.gif (7741 bytes) Plant Taxonomy (BIOL308)  -  Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D.; Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321;;

Halloween Botany

 I. Origin of Halloween

A. Pre-Christian festival of the dead in Ireland/Britain

B. Collision with Christianity

C. Activities

  1. Trick-or-treating – costumed individuals went door to door dressed as spirits seeking food and drink
  2. Jack O’Lantern

II. Pumpkin Biology

A. Cucurbitaceae – Gourd Family

B. What’s a pumpkin? Comparison of squash/pumpkin/melons/gourds

  Squash Pumpkin Gourd Melon
Shape Not round round    
Color Not orange orange    
Food type Veggie Dessert Ornamental, other (bottle, sponge) – bitter, inedible Dessert
Origin New World New World New/Old World Old World – "luxury" fruits – watermelon (Africa), cantaloupe (Africa), cucumber (SE Asia)

C. Importance of Pumpkins

D. Kinds (species)

Cucurbita pepo
  • pentagonal stem with spines
  • Examples: Halloween pumpkin, Pie pumpkin, Zucchini, Acorn squash, Summer squash
  • Domesticated in C. America and Mexico, at least 9000 ybp.
  • Member of important food triad: squash-maize-beans


C. maxima
  • Round stem
  • BIG! – largest fruit
  • Buttercup, turbans
  • Domesticated S. America


C. moschata
  • Pentagonal ridge on stem,
  • Smooth stem, enlarged next to fruit
  • Butternut
  • Canned pie-filling (most canned filling is made from Golden Delicious or Boston Marrow squash varieties)
  • Northern South America & C. America


C. mixta – white and green cushaws

5. Miscellaneous

Characteristic Summer Squash Winter Squash
Harvest summer fall
Skin soft hard
Seed soft large, hard
Storage poor good

III. Witches & Ergot

A. Introduction.

B. Possible Explanations (hypotheses)

C. Ergot & Salem

1. References:

2. Hypothesis - Salem affair was initiated because individuals ate bread/products from ergot-infected rye. This caused the symptoms of bewitchment.

3. Ergot Biology

4. Ergot Chemistry

Clavine (i.e., ergotamine)

Lysergic Acid derivatives

5. Gangrenous ergotism

6. Convulsive Ergotism

7. Evidence for ergotism

IV. Broad Beans (Vicia faba; Fabaceae – Legume Family)

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Last updated:  10/31/2008 / � Copyright by SG Saupe