Ask Dr. Universe – Pumpkin Strings

Dr. Universe: What are the strings inside a pumpkin? Some are attached to the seeds. – Maggie, Woodinville, WA
Dear Maggie,
If you open up a pumpkin, you would see all kinds of different things inside. Some people call all this gooey stuff the pumpkin’s “brains” or its “guts.”
There’s the meaty orange flesh, sticky pulp, lots of seeds, and, of course, all those little strings. The strings actually have a really big job.
My friend Lydia Tymon is a plant pathologist. That means she is like a doctor for plants—and she was happy to hear about your question.
The pumpkin’s strings, or fibrous strands, help the seeds get something important while the pumpkin is growing on the vine: nutrients.  
You might think of the nutrients as if they were the seeds’ food, and you might think of the strings as if they were the pumpkin’s own food delivery service.  
“In a lot of vegetables, there’s something that attaches the flesh to the seeds so that it can get the nutrients that it needs,” Tymon said.
Tymon said peas are another great example of a vegetable that has this kind of little system. If you pop open a pea pod, you may notice there is a little part that attaches the pea to the pod. It’s what plant scientists call the funiculus.
After learning about how nutrients can travel to the plant’s seeds through these fibrous strands, I asked Tymon exactly why these seeds need all of those important nutrients.
She reminded me that the seeds are how a plant reproduces, or makes future generations of plants. Those nutrients that pass through the fibrous strings of a pumpkin eventually get stored up in a part of the seed called the endosperm.
It’s this little part of the seed that stores up all the nutrients the seed will need to one day grow and develop into a plant. When the seed is exposed to water, soil and sun, new pumpkins can start growing on the vine.
You know, it sure is interesting to observe all the plants on our planet. Whether you are curious about pumpkins or other fruits and veggies, you never know when a great science question might strike.
With the help of an adult, maybe this year you can work together to do a pumpkin dissection of your own. Open up a pumpkin and see if you can identify all of its different parts.
If you are up for it, maybe you can even count all the seeds. Pumpkins have lots of seeds. You could even do some research to find out what the flesh is made up of or exactly what’s inside the seed.
After all that pumpkin exploration, you might feel a bit famished. When you are done, think about the different ways humans can use pumpkins for food.
You might even consider baking something like chocolate chip pumpkin muffins or a pumpkin pie. Or if you’re like me, you might just bake the seeds and enjoy a healthy pumpkin snack. 

Dr. Universe


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