Many find the difference between pumpkins, gourds and squash confusing as they are names of the different forms of summer and winter vegetables, which all come from the same Cucurbita family. What makes it more confusing is that Australians use the term pumpkins for all types of squashes!
Typically, summer squash has a softer more delicate skin and flesh while the winter squashes have a coarse, harder skin and tougher flesh. The winter squash or pumpkin as it is known is more suited to harsher weather conditions. Although there are many different types of pumpkin, several look like the Jack-o-Lantern which is used on Halloween.
The difference between pumpkins, gourds and squash is that a gourd is generally something you look at, you cook squash and you carve a pumpkin. However, this is not always the case so it is important to look at the stem to understand what it actually is.
The Cucurbita family houses the pumpkin, the gourd and the squash, and has sub-categories called the Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita maxima and the Cucurbita pepo.
Pumpkins are usually recognized as being the pepo. The stems are woody and the skin is hard and orange. However, the pepo group also covers others such as the patty-pan squash, gray and black zucchini, scallop summer squash and the summer crookneck squash.
As you can see the difference between pumpkins, gourds and squash can be confusing. The maxima species is slightly different to the pepo in that it is less hardy compared to a Jack-o-Lantern and has a softer, spongy stem. The skin is yellow rather than orange and has varieties such as the Big Max, Atlantic Giant and the Show King. Although they are pumpkins, they are also branded as squash-type pumpkins or pumpkin-squash. The maxima species mostly covers the autumn/winter squashes such as the banana squash, Hubbard squash, turban squash and the buttercup squash.
Last in the squash family is the moschata species which looks remarkably different to the other two. The shape of the vegetable is usually elongated or oblong and have a pale tan colored skin rather than bright orange. The stems are enlarged and ridged. The family also includes the winter crookneck squash, the squash-like cushaw and the butternut squash.