What Would You Call A Cucurbit Expert?

Nor' east Thinkin'

Teacher's pumpkin question stumped even the experts

Published on: September 2, 2011


I suppose some people think farm magazine editors know everything. Let me assure you, I know I don't. And, the older I get, the less I know, and the quicker I'll say so.

This week, I didn't have an answer for an email query zinging all the way across the country from the "land of fruits and nuts" – yes, California. I have no idea how the Merisa Camacho (nice lady) found me. But I always try to find somebody smart enough to have the answer.

Her question? "I'm a Kindergarten teacher, and I'd like to know if there's a specific name for people who study/grow pumpkins and gourds?"

My first smart-aleck thought was "a farmer", of course. Then "pumpkinologist" popped into my head. But if I said that, she'd probably think I was out of my gourd.

No, she wanted a real answer. So I emailed Kathy Demchak, Extension horticulturist at Penn State. Kathy replied: "I had no clue. So I asked my son who suggested 'cucurbitologist'." You have to admit its cute and a real tongue-twister – which I can't untangle.

Kathy reasoned that since pumpkins and gourds are in the cucurbit family, "it might be as close as we can get. But I'm including Brent Loy on this so he can correct me if I'm wrong. He would know if anyone would!"

So she zinged a copy of her response to Loy, a plant breeder extraordinaire at University of New Hampshire. He specializes in vine crops in the cucurbitaceae family. Try unwrapping your tongue on cucurbitaceae!

Brent replied: "You could use cucurbitologist since researchers working with melons, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, gourds and other species are often identified with cucurbit research. More often though, we're identified as cucurbit taxonomists, geneticists, breeders, physiologists, etc."

So after the chain email came back to me, I zinged it to Merisa, the early childhood coordinator of the California Science Center Foundation in Los Angeles. She works with other Kindergarten teachers at the Science Center School.

And her reply? "Thank you so much. I'm very glad to learn all these new terms. I'm sure the kids will find cucurbit funny. That will help them remember the word."

Cu-cur-but. Yep, that tongue-tantilizer should do the trick.

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