6 things you didn’t know about squash

October 1, 2020

From the origins of the plant to its pollination process, here are some interesting facts you might not know about squash.

Photo Credit: Brigitte Thom, Unsplash

1. Squash originated as a wild plant before becoming one of the world’s most cultivated crops

Squash originated as a wild plant in Central America and Mexico. The squash family includes some of the largest and most diverse fruits in the plant kingdom and is a significant source of food for many cultures.

Butternut, Hubbard, pumpkin, acorn, and patty pan are some of the more familiar squash varieties but hundreds more are cultivated around the world today.

Variety in colour, texture, size, and taste make squash a versatile vegetable that can be prepared in many different ways – baked, pureed, roasted, fried or even dried. Squash is prized for its nutrition, with high levels of vitamins A and C, niacin, riboflavin, and iron. Squash can also be stored for long periods of time. In fact some thicker skinned varieties can keep for months without spoiling!

2. Squash varieties will cross-pollinate with each other

Members of the squash family are pollinated by insects and are notorious for cross-pollinating with each other. This means that pollen from the flower of one variety of squash can get transported via insect to a different kind of squash where it can fertilize that plant. The squash that grow from these plants will still resemble what you expect them to. The only evidence that there has been any cross-pollination will occur the following year if you plant the seeds harvested from that squash. Those seeds contain the genes from two different squash parents and will therefore produce fruit with characteristics of both.

If you want to produce squash seed that’s “true-to-type” – i.e., not a mix of different types of squash – you must make sure each variety is isolated from each other by at least 1,500 metres. Or, if you don’t have a kilometre and a half to work with, you can pollinate your plants by hand to ensure specific pollen transfer.

But even if squashes do cross-pollinate with different varieties, many people appreciate and nurture the resulting variation in their squash crop. This random mixing is what has led to the evolution of many beautiful and delicious varieties over time.

To learn more about this fascinating pollination process, listen to this episode of the SeedHead Podcast (a podcast from SeedChange’s Canadian program), where farmer Bob Wildfong discusses seed saving for the cucurbit family. 

3. Squash bee is a crucial pollinator for the squash family

As the practice of growing squash spread across the Americas, the native squash bee travelled with it. The squash needs the bee for pollination and the bee needs the squash for food in the form of pollen. Recently the squash bee and its relatives have declined in number, likely due to pesticide sensitivity, and most commercial plantings are now pollinated by European honey bees. Swapping one bee for another has had some success but the honey bees still don’t appreciate squash pollen as much as squash bees and will often choose to visit other flowers instead.

4. The original Jack-o’-Lantern was not a pumpkin!

The practice of etching art into a gourd is believed to have originated in Ireland. Scary faces were carved into turnips, potatoes, rutabagas and beets, and filled with embers to frighten off evil spirits. Immigrants brought this tradition with them to the Americas. They soon found that pumpkins, native to their new home, made the perfect Jack-o’-Lanterns.

5. Squash is not a vegetable

Fruit or vegetable? While most people consider squashes a vegetable they are botanically speaking a fruit!

6. Squash flowers are edible

Squash flowers are entirely edible and can be eaten fresh as well as fried, steamed, baked, and stuffed with filling.

If you’re looking for ways to enjoy squash this season, we rounded up some of our best squash recipes featuring pumpkin, acorn and butternut squash varieties. These recipes were generously shared with us by farmers and friends of the SeedChange community.  

  • Savoury Roasted Acorn Squash
  • Cranberry Acorn Squash
  • Lentil and Butternut Squash Salad with Kale, Blue Cheese and Roasted Grapes
  • Three Sisters Soup
  • Pumpkin Cookies

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