Early Americans May Have Saved Pumpkins From Extinction

The gourd apparently grew on Native Americans (and mastodons)

Ginny | Flickr Creative Commons

A recently postulated theory suggests the pumpkin would have gone extinct if not for North Americans.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University, University of Cambridge, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. published to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Monday that—according to their data—the genus Cucurbita (pumpkins squashes, gourds) were domesticated by man several times over the past 10,000 years.

The research team points out that “the wild forms of these species are unpalatably bitter to humans and other extant mammals, but their seeds are present in mastodon dung deposits, demonstrating that they may have been dispersed by large-bodied herbivores undeterred by their bitterness.”

According to the group’s study, Cucurbita may have been unable to propagate without the suggested “large-bodied herbivores,” which explains why wild Cucurbita plants have faded “whereas their domestic counterparts adapted to changing conditions via symbiosis with human cultivators.”

Furthermore, the team sequenced the genomes of 91 Cucurbita samples, including 19 ancient, 30 modern wild and 42 modern domestic taxonomic groups — and their analysis indicated domestication movements occurred both in eastern North America and northeastern Mexico, independently of each other, while “sequence similarity between distant wild populations suggests recent fragmentation.”

If it wasn’t for those early Native Americans, the pumpkin spice latte may have never been.

Related Tags