Gourds and squashes


Table of Contents

Gourds and squashes (Cucurbita pepo L.)

Gourds and squashes include a variety of today’s pumpkins, summer and winter squashes, and ornamental gourds. They were among the first cultivated plants in the Midwest and among the earliest in eastern North America. One of the oldest dates for domesticated Cucurbita pepo comes from a site in south central Missouri where 5,100 year-old seeds are reported.

In Iowa early evidence of squash comes from rind found in a feature dating to the terminal Late Archaic at the Gast Spring site 2,800 years ago. It is commonly reported from Woodland through Late Prehistoric sites. Cucurbita is not native to Iowa and its presence at archaeological sites indicates it was being cultivated.

Ornamental gourds were probably used for containers, but the flesh of immature fruits was eaten by some Native Americans, and sliced and dried for later meals. Both the blossoms and flesh of squashes were cooked fresh, and cut, dried and stored for later use. Squash was boiled, sometimes with other plants and with meal. The flesh was also roasted. Seeds from boiled squash were eaten whole, but also were prepared by parching and roasting. The flesh, rinds, and seeds of Cucurbita species are nutritionally rich, high in protein and oil, and an important source of minerals especially potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Almost all of the sites illustrated on the map refer to plant remains believed to represent Cucurbita pepo. To date, bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria (Molina), has been positively identified at very few Iowa locations, although it is suspected. One such discovery comes from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century A.D. McKinney Oneota site (13LA1) in southeast Iowa.

Major References

Adrain, Tiffany S. 2003
Asch, David L. and William Green 1992
Asch, David L. 1996
Dunne, Michael T. 1997; 1995; 2000; 2002; 2005
Dunne, Michael T. and Green, William 1998
Green, William and Shelly Gradwell 1995
Hollinger R. Eric 1999
Idouraine, Ahmed , Edwin A. Kohlhepp, and Charles W. Weber 1996
King, Francis B. 1985
Powell, Gina 2005
Smith, Bruce 1996

Map of Iowa with orange and yellow dots that indicate prehistoric sites known to have cultivated squash
Iowa Sites
Site NumberMajor ReferenceFamilyGenus and SpeciesIowa Culture
13AM50Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoO
13AM403Powell, 2005CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoMW/LW
13AM404Powell, 2005CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoLMW/LW/O
13AM405Powell, 2005CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoLW
13BN103Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoGO
13BN110Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoGO
13BV1Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAEcf. Cucurbita pepoMC
13CF101Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoEW/MW/ELW
13CF102Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoELW/LLW
13CK15Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoMC
13CK21Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoMC
13DA110Green, 1995CUCURBITACEAECucurbita sp.GO
13DA264Asch, 1996CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoGO
13DB497Powell, 2002CUCURBITACEAECucurbita sp.TLW
13DK1Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoO
13DM140Hollinger, 1999CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoO
13HA181Dunne, 2000CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoLA
13LA1Hollinger, 1999; Hollinger, 2005CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoO
13LA12Dunne, 2002CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoMW/ELW
13LA38Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita sp.MW/ELW
13LA152Dunne, 1997CUCURBITACEAECucurbita cf. pepoLA
13LE110Hollinger, 2005; Zalucha, 1999CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoMLW/O
13LE117BZalucha, 1999CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoELW
13MA209Parker, 1990CUCURBITACEAECucurbita sp.O
13MC15Powell, 2002CUCURBITACEAEcf. Cucurbita pepoLA
13ML124Adair, 2010CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoG
13ML129Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoG
13ML138Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoG
13ML175Adair, 2010CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoG
13ML176Adair, 2010CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoG
13ML361Green and Billeck, 1993CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoG
13ML637Adair, 2010CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoG
13OB4Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoMC
13PM1Adrain, 2003CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoMC
13PM25Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoGO
13PM50Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAEcf. Cucurbita pepoGO
13PM91Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoLMW/ELW
13WD88Dunne, 2005CUCURBITACEAECucurbita pepoGO
13LA1Hollinger, 1999CUCURBITACEAELagenaria siceraraO
13PK165Asch and Green, 1992CUCURBITACEAECucurbita/Lagenaria sp.LW


LALate Archaic
EWEarly Woodland
MWMiddle Woodland
LMWLate Middle Woodland
ELWEarly Late Woodland
LWLate Woodland
LLWLate Late Woodland
TLWTerminal Late Woodland
GOGreat Oasis
MCMill Creek

Two photos of squash within its vines

Two photos of squash within its vines


Image Credit:​
Wendy and Michael Scullin
Melanie Riley and Mary Kathryn Rocheford, OSA (map)