Seminole Pumpkin

Seminole pumpkins by Miranda Castro

Photo courtesy of Miranda Castro,
Edible Plant Project

Gardeners in Florida often struggle to find vegetables that will make it through the relentless summer heat; Florida Seminole pumpkins just may be the answer to their search. Traditionally grown by the Calusa, Creek, and Miccosukee peoples, Seminole pumpkins remain one of the tastiest and most reliable pumpkins for Florida gardens.

Characteristics

Seminole pumpkins are a cultivated variety (cultivar) of Cucurita moschata; some other notable cultivars of this species include butternut squash and Calabaza. Seminole pumpkins come in a variety of shapes and colors. While generally rounded and dull orange, their appearance can vary—even on the same plant. The inner flesh of Seminole pumpkins is orange and tastes like butternut squash, but sweeter. The flesh is firmer and less fibrous than that of a traditional jack-o-lantern pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo). The mature fruits generally weigh 6 to 12 pounds.

Thanks to their thick skin, Seminole pumpkins can be stored for up to a year in a dry location with enhanced ventilation. More realistically for Florida's humid climate, they can be stored for a few months. To preserve their harvested Seminole pumpkins, aboriginal Floridians sliced and dried the fruit.

You don't have to limit yourself to eating the flesh of these pumpkins, though. Young, green fruits can be harvested and eaten without peeling. The beautiful yellow flowers are also edible: raw, stuffed, or even fried!

Here's a fun fact: the name "Chassahowitza," given to a region on the gulf in Southwest Florida by the Seminole people, means "pumpkin hanging place." It's likely that the pumpkins they were referring to were Seminole pumpkins, or a related variety.

Planting and Care

Seminole pumpkins take the summer heat and humidity in stride, and they're relatively pest- and disease-free. These pumpkins are resistant to the vine borers and downy mildew that can plague other summer vegetables. But keep an eye out for caterpillar infestations, and if you notice that your plants are being munched on, you can hand pick off the pests or use microbial pesticides like Bt.

In North and Central Florida, seeds can be planted in the spring; gardeners in South Florida have the opportunity to plant Seminole pumpkin in the spring or fall. These productive vines can grow up to 25 feet, so give them room to spread. The Seminole people planted the vines below trees, which served as natural trellises, but feel free to use your garden trellis of choice.

These plants require little maintenance on the part of the gardener; some even claim they thrive on neglect. As your vines grow, they may become weighed down by the pumpkins—this is normal for fruiting vines and not something to worry about. When watering your Seminole pumpkins, do so in the early morning. While these vines don't suffer from disease and pests the same way other squashes and pumpkins do, some gardeners have had issues with gummy stem blight. You can help prevent this fungal disease by keeping mulch away from the base of your vine.

Within 60 to 90 days after planting, you should be ready to harvest your first crop of Seminole pumpkins. Once harvested, they should be stored in a cool, dry place. Your vine should continue producing pumpkins up until the first frost of the year. Seminole pumpkin can be used as a substitute for other pumpkins or butternut squash when cooking.

If you need more information on growing this delicious—and often forgotten—traditional Florida vegetable, contact your local county Extension office. Also highly recommended is this classic paper, "The Sturdy Seminole Pumpkin Provides Much Food with Little Effort," by the esteemed tropical plant expert Julia Morton of the University of Miami, published in the 1975 Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society (Vol 88).

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