Bumpy & Warty Knuckleheads
By Paula Ogilvie:
Once upon a time, smooth, round, orange pumpkins were the go-to for scariest jack-o-lanterns. Along with 20-pound Cinderella pumpkins, ideal for transformation into magic carriages, these iconic Halloween decorations are now joined by spectacularly witchy, warty pumpkins. Once a rare novelty they are now trendy fall favorites and their popularity has resulted in many new varieties that can be grown in home gardens.
Known as Knuckleheads, warty pumpkins are one of the Super-freak hybrid varieties developed by Siegers Seed Co in Holland, Michigan. Over 10 years of breeding has resulted in numerous new warty, bumpy pumpkins often with grotesque shapes. The name Knucklehead comes from the bumpy resemblance to knuckles. Their high sugar content causes the skin to crack and warts to develop.
Occasionally a warty pumpkin will just appear in a pumpkin patch. It can be a natural variation or the result of a mosaic virus transmitted by aphids. The infected pumpkin plants will have mottled leaves and weak growth. Cool, wet weather can also cause warts to form. But in either instance the warts form under the skin and grow outward whereas Knucklehead warts are actually part of the skin.
All pumpkins and their seeds, including Knuckleheads, are edible and nutritious, whether small munchkins or larger varieties. Knuckleheads are not unhealthy or defective! While tastes and textures can vary considerably, some Knuckleheads are as tasty as their smooth orange counterparts. In general they have a sweet mild flavor although some may be watery. Smaller pumpkins of all kinds are usually the best for baking.
Pumpkins are actually a type of squash. Orange turban pumpkins with a green top are an edible winter squash. Two of the tastiest pumpkins are winter squash — Hubbard and butternut. Both make excellent pumpkin pies, bread or other pumpkin treats. Even though they are large Hubbard squash are renowned by cooks for their excellent flavor.
Home gardeners can google Knucklehead pumpkins to find a vast variety of warty pumpkins and the seeds to grow them. Variety names vary by seed company. As with other pumpkins the vines need room to grow and the fruits take 100 to 110 days to mature. While all pumpkins and squash are fruits containing seeds for the next generation, they hybridize easily on their own so plants grown from them may disappoint – or not. Knuckleheads are hybrids so the seeds will definitiely not be true to type.
Gourds are the other squash used for fall decoration. Their hard outer skins and lack of fleshy interior generally make them unsuitable for consumption - except by squirrels! Most are smaller than pumpkins with smooth or warty skin.
Knucklehead pumpkins can be carved and decorated just like their smooth cousins. Their ghoulish appearance adds a Sleepy Hollow feel to Halloween decorations or just new interest to fall decor.
Paula Ogilvie is a former instructor of botany & biology in Denver.