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Cucurbit Genetics Cooperative Report 23:58-59 (article 18) 2000

Significance of Paintings (1769-1774) of Cucurbita pepo Fruits by A.N. Duchesne

Harry S. Paris

Department of Vegetable Crops, Agricultural Research Organization, Newe Ya'ar Research center, P.O. Box 1021, Ramat Yishay 30-095, Israel

Cucurbita entered recorded history in the botanical herbals of the Renaissance period. From 1542 through 1700, over 50 original illustrations were published of various forms of this genus, almost all of them C. pepo. The period 1701-1850 has only a few published illustrations of Cucurbita. By far the greatest collection of Cucurbita illustrations of the period 1701-1850 is the paintings by A.N. Duchesne (1747-1827). These paintings, life-like and drawn true to color and size, were not published.

Duchesne began his study of Cucurbita in 1768, two years after the publication of his classic work on strawberries (3). His objective had been to determine taxonomic relationships among the various forms of Cucurbita, a genus that had been defined 15 years previously by Linne (8). Duchesne obtained seeds from nearly 100 Cucurbita cultigens and made cross-pollinations among them. the plants obtained through cross-pollinations were planted out and cross-pollinated, and so on for several generations. Duchesne documented his results by drawing, paying attention to the finest detail, the fruits of the cultigens and of their cross-pollinated progeny over successive generations He observed which stocks cross-pollinated and gave fertile offspring, and which did not. In this fashion, he was able to establish that the accessions of Cucurbita in his possession belonged to three species. One, which was highly polymorphic and for which Linne (8) had established four species, Duchesne called Cucurbita polymorphia (=C. pepo). Another, which usually had large, round fruits, that is, pumpkins, or in common French, Potirons, he appropriately named C. maxima.The third, whose fruit flesh had a musky flavor and aroma, known in French under several names including citrouille musquee, he named C. moschata.. Duchesne presented the result of his study before the French Royal Academy of Sciences in 1779. He read from a manuscript, using the paintings to illustrate and document his discussion. This manuscript has been lost, but a summary of his work was published in 1786 as a 46-page duodecimo book. Entitled "Essai sur l'histoire naturelle des courges" (5), its existence has been known only to several historians of botany. Modifications of this work appeared in two installments in encyclopedias published by C.J. Panckoucke of Paris (4,6).

The paintings reside today in the Central Library of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. They are catalogued as manuscript no. 5007 (even though unaccompanied by any manuscript) and contain 258 64 x 48 cm plates containing 364 drawings of 615 fruits. Black and white photographs of approximately one-half of the drawings are in the herbarium of the Bailey Hortorium in Ithica, New York. L.H. Bailey had earlier learned of the existence of the Duchesne drawings from his article (4) in volume 2 of Panckoucke's "Encyclopedie Methodique" Botanique," of which Lamarck had been editor, and in 1946 Bailey requested and obtained the photographs now in the possession of the Hortorium bearing his name (1). The only other publications known to me that refer to these paintings, besides the works authored by Duchesne, were written by Buc'hoz (2), Sageret (9), and more recently, Duprat (7).

Bailey had studied the paintings at length and admitted that he did not know what taxonomic significance they might have, as he could not decipher Duchesne's numbering system. From the text (4,5,6), supported by the dates which many of the paintings bear, I have been able to decipher the numbering system. Significantly, the numbers not bearing a letter suffix represent fruits obtained form plants grown from the original seed stocks. Those bearing letter suffixes were borne by offspring resulting from cross-pollinations. Although the summaries of Duchesne's work (4,5,6) do not inform us as to how the original seed stocks were obtained, the paintings do allow us to determine the kinds of Cucurbita that had existed at the time. Some of the more interesting ones of C. pepo are:

  • No. 1: Orange gourd
  • No. 7: Bicolor, striped (=quadricolor) flat gourd
  • No. 14: Striped pear gourd
  • No. 141 : Bicolor, striped (=quadricolor) pear gourd
  • Nos. 8, 15, and 17: Other bicolor gourds.
  • Nos. 36 and 37: Orange warted gourds
  • Nos. 62 and 63: Striped pumpkins
  • Nos. 73 and 76: Cocozelle squash
  • No. 83: Straightneck squash
  • No. 85: Acorn squash
  • No. 91: Scallop squash
  • No. 92: Striped crown of thorns gourd

Nos. 73 and 76 are especially significant, being perhaps the first illustrations of cocozells squash. No. 83, likewise is significant, being perhaps the first illustration of straightneck squash.

Acknowledgements: Contribution no. 122/00 from the Institute of Field & Garden Crops, Agricultural Research Organization, Bet Dagan, Israel.

Literature Cited

  1. Bailey, L.H. 1948. Jottings in the Cucurbitas. Gent. Herb. 7: 447-477.
  2. Buc'hoz, P.J. 1777. Histoire universelle du regne vegetal 7 (text): 88-91.
  3. Duchesne, A.N. 1766. Histoire naturelle des fraisiers. Didot,. Paris.
  4. Duchesne, A.N. 1786. Courge, cucurbita. In: J/B/P/A. de M. de Lamarck, ed. encyclopedie Methodique, Botanique 2: 148-159. Panckoucke, Paris.
  5. Duchesne, A.N. 1786. Essai sue l'histoire naturelle descourges. Panckoucke, Paris.
  6. Duchesne, A.N. 1793. courge, Cucurbita. In: A.H. Tessier and A. Thouin, eds. Encyclopedie Methodique, Agriculture 3: 605-614. Panckoucke, Paris.
  7. Duprat, G. 1964. Les dessinateurs d'histoire naturelle, en France au 18e siecle. In: M. Adanson. the bicentennial of Michel Adanson's "Families des plantes," part 2, pp. 451-470. Hunt Botanical Library, Pittsburgh.
  8. Linne, C. von. 1753. Species plantarum 2: 1010-1011. Salvii, Stockholm.
  9. Sageret, A. 1826. Considerations sur la production des hybrides des variantes et des varietes en general et sur celles de la famille des Cucurbitacees en particulier. Ann. Sci. Nat. Bot., I, 8.: 294-314.
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