Since this is the Year of the Cucurbit here at GIEI, we're going to be talking about squash a lot. I thought, therefore, that this would be a good time to remind our readers that squashes come not just in lots of different varieties and appearances, but also in four distinct species. (Actually more, but four that we commonly grow in this country.) Why is it important to know this? Well, for one thing, if you're planning to save seed from your open-pollinated squash for replanting, you need to realize that when more than one variety of squash in the same species is growing in your garden or in nearby gardens, they are likely to cross-pollinate and produce seed that won't grow a plant like its parent. You can prevent this either by using seed-saving techniques like isolation and hand-pollination (see books such as Seed to Seed to learn how) or by planting only one variety per species (though you'll still have to find out what your close neighbors are planting).
Another reason to learn to identify the different species of squash is that they vary in degree of susceptibility to pests and diseases.
So, meet the squashes.
|photo by Bob Nixon|
C. pepo squashes have a mild flavor, mature relatively quickly, and don't store very well; even winter squashes need to be used within a few months.
|Galeux d'Eysines squash, C. maxima|
|photo by Nancy Robson|
So how do you know which species of squash you are planting? Many seed packets and catalogs will provide species information for every variety, but some don't, so - ask! Or, if that doesn't appeal to you, Google is your friend.
Also please note that many types of ornamental "gourds" are actually squash varieties (usually C. pepo or C. maxima). So these may cross with your squash as well, and produce odd seed results.