You might be surprised to learn that these beautiful pumpkins are not the same ones you will be eating in your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Before you eat that first bite of pumpkin pie today, I need to tell you a secret. If the filling came from a can, especially one marked Libby’s, it isn’t pumpkin at all—at least not of the jack-o-lantern type—despite its name, Dickinson Pumpkin. Dickinson Pumpkin belongs to the squash species known as Cucurbita moschata, the same species as the butternut squash. It has a tan rather than orange skin but the flesh is bright orange and flavorful.

When I decided to write about pumpkin, I had no idea the subject would be so complicated. Pumpkin isn’t pumpkin? One species having two distinctly different fruits? Squash that really isn’t a fruit but rather a botanical berry?

Experts do seem to agree that all squash species likely originated in the New World. Native specimens occur from South America to Florida to Maine. It may also be one of the first plants actually domesticated by humans—perhaps 10,000 years ago.

Botanists also agree that true pumpkins—the heritage variety for pumpkins is the Connecticut Field pumpkin—come from the species, Cucurbita pepo, the same species that spawns crookneck, acorn and spaghetti squash as well as the hard-shelled gourds.

How can all these very different squashes have the same scientific name? They are all cultivars (produced by careful breeding and selection) or in some instances, subspecies, of the original plants. For instance, all the jack-o-lantern type pumpkins are considered Cucurbita pepo pepo, a subspecies. There are many varieties of Cucurbita pepo and they grow in a wide range of habitats and conditions. The morphological characteristics in this one species are so vast that many of the cultivars and subspecies have been misidentified at various times as unique species.

My six-year-old grandson, Keller, knew something about pumpkins that I didn’t know. Pumpkins technically aren’t even fruits, but rather berries. According to Wikipedia, “In botanical language, a berry is a simple fruit having seeds and fleshy pulp (the pericarp) produced from the ovary of a single flower”. Examples include, avocados, bananas, currants, grapes, watermelons, cucumbers, and, you guessed it, pumpkins.

Before you go searching the seed catalogs for Dickinson pumpkin seeds, you should know that they likely won’t thrive here. Pumpkins are warm weather plants and Dickinson pumpkins are extra particular, Zone 5 being their tolerance level (Idaho Falls is Zone 4, or colder than Dickinson pumpkins prefer). However, I find the cultivar, jack-o-lantern is quite tasty as a baked squash and for pumpkin bread. There are also several small varieties of Cucurbita pepo pepo that make fine pies. Try Small Sugar, Winter Luxury or New England Pie varieties.

One final thing about pumpkins and their relatives. The Cucurbita pepo species is called winter squash. I occasionally wondered what that really meant so I looked it up. A winter squash isn’t grown in the winter, nor can it be planted earlier than other squash. A winter squash has a hard, often inedible skin and if harvested and stored correctly, may last up to six months in storage, well into the winter months. Hence, winter squash. Fascinating.

Knowing that the pumpkin in my pie isn’t the same as the pumpkin species in my garden is a revelation, but it isn’t going to keep me from enjoying this wonderful holiday treat. Topped with real whipped cream, it will always mean Thanksgiving to me.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho