Great Pumpkin Science!

Great Pumpkin Science

It’s October, which means it is pumpkin time!  Pumpkins are a North American fall staple known for their bright orange hue, hard skin, and round shape.  We bake goodies, decorate with, and carve pumpkins every year, but what makes them special and how did our traditions start?

Pumpkins are a cultivator of Cucurbita pepo, which is a family of squash plants.  A cultivator is simply a group of plants preferred or propagated because of specific desirable qualities.  For pumpkins, that is their color, size, and shape and as pumpkin enthusiasts propagate the plants they can enhance certain features. Everyone is on the hunt each year for the perfectly round, bright orange pumpkin to carve and farmers deliver through their propagation efforts. Think of it like a combination of nature and nurture; the traits are there but we breed the plants to enhance the results.  There is one type of pumpkin that has grown HUGE; Cucurbita maxima aka the giant pumpkin.

Thirty or so years ago, the biggest pumpkin ever was only around 500lbs, but now the world record for largest pumpkin ever weighed in at 2,625lbs!  How did this massive growth happen?  Most giant pumpkin growers propagate that specific species with seeds originating from one specific award-winning Atlantic Giant variety of pumpkin.  Their cultivation has one goal: size.  They focus their energy on that trait as they propagate and their efforts echo across future generations producing bigger and bigger pumpkins over time.

What makes this type of giant pumpkin different from your regular garden variety is that it has oversize phloem.  Plants have two types of tissue responsible for moving nutrients and water around a plant: xylem and phloem.  Xylem moves water and phloem moves sugar or food.  Pumpkins are 90% water but can grow bigger and bigger because of the efficiency of their supersize phloem.  Regular pumpkins are already large compared to other squash and giant pumpkins are even larger.

This trait is further manipulated by cultivators who add beneficial fungi, pruning techniques, special greenhouse conditions and other methods to the mix. Mycorrhizal fungi will happily colonize the pumpkin’s roots and enter a symbiotic relationship that benefits them both.  Thanks to the fungi, pumpkin can more efficiently pick up nutrients in the soil and transport them on their phloem superhighway, and in exchange the fungi gets essential carbohydrates necessary for their survival. More nutrients and bigger phloem add up to huge growth in the pumpkin world!

Pruning a plant’s blossoms down to just a few also helps with growing giant pumpkins because more resources are dedicated to those few pumpkins versus spreading the resources out to many pumpkins.  Again, the goal is to produce a few giants versus many regular-size pumpkins.

Some competition growers also use greenhouses to completely control the environment around their pumpkin.  This takes the guess work out of weather conditions and can prevent them from losing their prize-winning pumpkin to drought or too much rain.  Do you think you’d want to try growing a giant pumpkin? Or maybe you just want to stick with carving the standard 12lb variety.

Pumpkin carving is a great example of America’s culture being a melting pot of ideas.  Pumpkins are from North America but carving vegetables for Halloween is from Ireland!

Jack o’ Lanterns have been around for centuries and originated around the Irish myth of Stingy Jack.  People would carve turnips and put an ember inside on all hallows eve to keep evil spirits and Stingy Jack away.  When Irish immigrants arrived in America, they brought their tradition with them and switched to the easier-to-carve pumpkin.




When you carve pumpkins this year, you can try a cool experiment that makes them erupt!

Carve your pumpkin like usual but in the bottom of the inside of the pumpkin put a generous amount of baking soda plus some food dye.  While outside, pour vinegar into the top of the pumpkin and watch as the pumpkin erupts with a fun science volcano effect.  It might pour all out of the mouth or also out of the eyes and nose!

Check out our other SPOOKTACULAR science experiments here!


Happy Halloween!




Sources: Pixabay



Holiday 2014 E-News!

Put the FUN back into your holiday function with hands-on science!

From Halloween to New Years, High Touch High Tech is the perfect way to add excitement to your holiday celebration! Whether it’s a class party, corporate function or birthday extravaganza – you can make this holiday season one to remember with FUN, hands-on science that comes to you!


There’s no trick here! Have FUN as we treat you to some hands-on, spooky science! Come face to face with our creepy crawly Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, spark excitement as you touch lightening, weave a web of suspense as we investigate some incredible spiders & much, much more! Call or email us today for more information about booking a Frankenstein’s Freaky Laboratory party today!


From falling leaves to falling temperatures, get ready to fall in love with science all over again! Uncover the science behind Mother Nature’s Autumn fashion show as we make our own leaves change color using a cool chemical extraction! Have you ever wondered why we have 4 different seasons? We’ll investigate the reason for the season as we learn about the Earth’s wobble. Have FUN as we experiment with one of our favorite times of year, make your own pilgrim putty to keep & much more! Call or email us today for more information about booking a Fall Festival of Science party today!


Discover why science is so cool as we take you on a journey through our scientific winter wonderland! First stop, we’ll go on a chilly fishing expedition where you’ll get to go ice cube fishing. Next, grab your skis as we make our very own snow! We’ll mix things up a bit as we learn about some crazy chemical reactions and make your very own Polar Bear Putty to keep! These experiments & more are all included in this magical, winter wonderland experience!

Hosting a holiday party has never been easier – we bring the FUN to you!
Let us transform your special event from ordinary to extraordinary
with exciting, hands-on science!

From Shamrocks & Shenanigans – Traditions of St. Patrick’s Day!

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Today, St. Patrick’s Day is a transcontinental celebration of Irish culture, filled with festive food and traditions. Amidst the millions of people that don green to celebrate the Irish few know the reasoning behind many popular St. Patrick’s Day traditions. Have you ever wondered why we wear green, tell stories of leprechauns, display shamrocks and pinch our friends on St. Patrick’s Day? Read on to discover how these modern day St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans came to be.

Why green? 

According to some accounts, blue was the first color associated with St. Patrick’s Day, but that started to change in the 17th century. Green is one of the colors in Ireland’s tri-color flag, and it has been used in the flags of several Irish revolutionary groups throughout history. Ireland is the “Emerald Isle,” so named for its lush green landscape. Green is also the color of spring, the shamrock, and the Chicago River, which the Midwestern city has dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day for the past 40-odd years.


Corned beef or bacon? 

This St. Patrick’s Day, millions of people will sit down to an authentic Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage. Or so they think. In fact, only half of it is really Irish. Though cabbage has historically been a staple of the Irish diet (along with potatoes), it was traditionally eaten with Irish bacon, not corned beef. Irish immigrants in America could not afford the bacon, so they substituted it with corned beef.

Pinch me, I’m Irish

Forgot to wear green on St. Patty’s Day? Don’t be surprised if you get pinched. No surprise, it’s an entirely American tradition that probably started in the early 1700s. St. Patrick’s revelers thought wearing green made one invisible to leprechauns, fairy creatures who would pinch anyone they could see (anyone not wearing green). People began pinching those who didn’t wear green as a reminder that leprechauns would sneak up and pinch green-abstainers.

Leprechauns, Pots of Gold & Rainbows

Just what does a mythical leprechaun look like and why are they so special? A leprechaun looks like a little old man and dresses like a shoemaker with a cocked hat and leather apron. According to Irish folklore, leprechauns were cranky tricksters who you wouldn’t want to mess with. They live alone and pass the time by mending the shoes of Irish fairies. According to the legend, the fairies pay the leprechauns for their work with golden coins, which the “little people” collect in large pots–the famous “pots of gold” often associated with leprechauns. The legend says that if you catch a leprechaun, you can force him to tell you where he hid his pot of gold. Supposedly, this pot of gold is hidden at the end of a rainbow. Because you can never find the “end” of a rainbow, you can’t get the pot of gold. To get the gold, you first get to catch the little Leprechaun.

The cheerful, friendly ‘Lil elf most Americans associate with St. Paddy’s Day stems from a 1959 Walt Disney film called Darby O’Gill & the Little People. The Americanized, good-natured leprechaun soon became a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland in general.

 Shamrocks & the Four-Leaf Clover 

According to Irish legend, St. Patrick chose a three leaved clover or shamrock as a symbol of the church’s Holy Trinity because of its three leaflets bound by a common stalk.  A shamrock is not a four leaf clover, contrary to popular belief.

Although clovers are most often found in nature with three leaves, rare four-leaf clovers do exist. Finding one is thought to bring someone extreme luck. The folklore for four-leaf clovers differs from that of the Shamrock due to the fact that it has no religious allusions associated with it. It is believed that each leaf of a four-leaf clover represents something different: first is hope, the second is faith, the third is love, and the fourth is happiness. The good luck attached with the four leaf clover predates Christianity in Ireland back to the ancient Druid priests.

You don’t have to be Irish to have some hands-on fun on this holiday, exercise your green thumb this St. Patrick’s Day & learns to grow shamrocks indoors!

 Kiss Me I’m Irish

The popular “Kiss Me, I’m Irish,” saying is a reference to The Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is the “Stone of Eloquence” in Blarney Castle. Legend holds that kissing the stone brings good luck and gives you the ability to never be lost for words, becoming a smooth talker so-to-speak. If you can’t make it to Ireland to kiss the actual stone, convention says the next-best option is to kiss an Irishman.

No Snakes In Ireland? 

Another St. Patrick myth is the claim that he banished snakes from Ireland. It’s true no snakes exist on the island today, but they never did. Ireland, after all, is surrounded by icy ocean waters—much too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else. But since snakes often represent evil in literature, when Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, it is symbolically saying he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland and brought in a new age. The snake myth was likely spread by well-meaning monks centuries after St. Patrick’s death.

The Luck o’ the Irish 

Want to get lucky this St. Patrick’s Day? If so, follow these rules:


1. Find a four-leaf clover.

2. Wear green (so you don’t get pinched).

3. Kiss the blarney stone.

4. Catch a Leprechaun if you can.

There are many traditions associated with Saint Patrick’s Day.  Regardless of your actual heritage, we all embrace our inner Irishman (or woman) on St. Patrick’s Day. Looking for more ways to have FUN this holiday? Check out these FUN games & resources! 

Quiz Your Noodle – National Geographic St. Patty’s Day Quiz

Clover Puzzler

Funny Fill-In (Mad Lib)