Early Americans Saved Pumpkin, Squash And Gourds From Extinction

Posted: Nov 17 2015, 9:04pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News


Early Americans saved Pumpkin, Squash and Gourd from Extinction
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It is clear that early native American Indians saved such important vegetables as the pumpkin, squash and gourd from the inevitability of extinction.

The gardening instinct of early humans may have led to certain vegetables surviving into the present times. The genomic sequencing of close to a hundred gourds revealed that human beings began growing the flora sometime in the distant past. That would be 10,000 years ago to be exact.

Most of the gourds were very bitter in their taste. While smaller mammals rejected the bitter gourds, the larger varieties chose to eat the gourds and spread the seeds in their droppings. We are referring to such by-now extinct mammals as mastodons here. 

When the huge mammals went extinct, the gourds lost a dispersal agent. That was where the native American Indians took over and spread the seeds thereby preserving the pumpkin, the gourd and the squash. The record of these efforts by these native people of America is there for us to see in the record of the past 10,000 years.

Although in the wilderness, these gourds tend to be ten times more bitter than under domesticated circumstances, their dispersal depended entirely on the mastodons. These gentle giants that were herbivores helped immensely in spreading the seeds of gourds via their dung deposits. 

The group of squashes, pumpkins and gourds belong to the Cucurbita family of plants. Although the wild species of this plant have disappeared with the times, today’s tastier and more palatable kind remains.

It was the interaction of human beings and these hardy plants that resulted in the propagation of them till our own modern times. Both North America and the Mexican region were the locus of influence for these plants which are a common ingredient in many dishes today.  

So now we finally understand why pumpkins are still used on Halloween in the United States of America. Had the human and non-human agents not dispersed their seeds in the soil in ancient times, we would have no Jack-o-Lanterns today.

Such is the irony of fate. The mastodons were like huge elephants and they were able to digest the tough rinds and bitter alkaloids found in the gourds. But the seeds remained intact and returned to the soil in the form of the mastodons’ excreta.

Similarly, many of the fruits and vegetables of the New World such as avocados and chocolate are found today thanks to dispersal by animals and human beings in the times of yore.  

This study was published on November 16 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
Sumayah Aamir (Google+) has deep experience in analyzing the latest trends.




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