Pumpkin and zucchini are two well-known members of the squash family that are widespread in domestic kitchen gardens. Already in the biological name, the appearing name Cucurbita points to the close relationship of both crops. It is therefore not surprising that the young plants in particular are easily confused without pronounced inflorescences and infructescences. We explain the difference and help to identify both species at an early stage of growth.

Why is the difference so hard to tell?

Actually, one should assume that each member of the Cucurbita family has its own individual characteristics and is therefore easily recognizable. Indeed, overall it is. It is particularly difficult with young plants. With them, only the cotyledons are recognizable at first, the normal shoots and leaves, on the other hand, are only developed later and can therefore not yet be used to distinguish them. In addition, the distinction between plant species is often based on the flowers and, of course, the fruits. Both are not present in young growths because sexual maturity has not yet been reached. Thus, these characteristics are also excluded for identifying the plant species. But how can zucchini and pumpkin be reliably told apart?

Note: The zucchini is not only a representative of the pumpkin family, it was even bred directly from pumpkins. It is therefore not surprising that they are very similar and in some areas cannot be distinguished at all.

Recognize and tell zucchini and pumpkin apart

Precisely because young plants are not yet fully developed, you should still be able to recognize them early and assign them to a species of Cucurbita. Because if you want to replant the plants or swap them with other hobby gardeners, for example, you shouldn’t wait until they have developed further and become fully established at the current location. These criteria can help tell the difference:


It is impossible to distinguish in the first days after breaking through the earth’s surface. The young plants are only a few centimeters in size and any distinguishing features are not yet recognizable. Both species have strong oval cotyledons at this stage. Only when the two Cucurbita species can be compared directly can one guess whether they belong to zucchini or pumpkin based on the size difference, since pumpkins usually emerge stronger from the ground due to their twice as large seeds.

When: first days of growth

Distinctive features:

  • Pumpkin is more pronounced than zucchini
  • Otherwise no features recognizable

young plants

With the development of the first shoots and leaves, however, identification features also become clear to inexperienced observers and to plants without direct comparison. Because the leaves that grow after the cotyledons already manage to reach a size that allows even finer features to appear sufficiently strongly.

When: first one to two weeks of life

Identifying features zucchini:

  • Jagged leaf margins
  • Elongated, thin-skinned leaves
  • Rather compact and bushy growth with a recognizable “trunk”
  • Hairs on the underside of the leaves strong and prickly
  • The leaves are densely packed on the respective main shoot

Identifying features pumpkin:

  • Round leaf shape
  • Smooth sheet edges
  • Thicker, stronger leaves
  • Early formation of long, spreading shoots
  • Hairs on the underside of the leaves softer and “fluffier”

First flowering

Due to their rapid growth, Cucurbita species form their first flowers very early. It may be questioned whether the plants are still young at this stage, but for the sake of completeness it should be mentioned at this point that it is not the fully developed flowers, but the flower base of the female flowers that makes a good distinction between pumpkin and squash Zucchini allows.

When: Subsequent weeks of growth with initial formation of flower buds

Distinctive features:

  • In the case of zucchini plants, the flower head is elongated and has a shape similar to that of later zucchini
  • In the case of pumpkins, the flower has a round, compact base, comparable to later pumpkin shapes

mature plant

Zucchini and pumpkin can only be distinguished very clearly and without any risk of confusion when they are fully grown. Crucial to this are the now fully developed growth traits, as well as the presence of the most obvious indication of species affiliation: the fruit!

When: after reaching fertility

Identifying features zucchini:

  • rather compact, dense growth
  • clear direction of growth along the main shoot
  • sharply serrated, elongated leaves
  • clearly identifiable, mostly elongated, rarely round fruits with a typical green or yellow color

Identifying features pumpkin:

  • Strong, flat growth without a specific direction of growth
  • numerous side shoots with large leaf spacings
  • round, broad leaves
  • Round to bottle-shaped fruits with different, monochromatic or striped color in – depending on the species – yellow, brown, orange or green color

Many a reader may now despair at the prospect of being able to assign his little plant to one or the other plant species only after a certain period of growth. If you follow the sometimes intense discussions in relevant forums on this topic, it quickly becomes clear that even experienced hobby gardeners make mistakes here again and again and plants ultimately turn out to be something different than originally thought. So don’t despair and enjoy the successfully grown, tasty vegetables, whether zucchini or pumpkin!

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