800 Cucurbita spp.Common Names: squash, pumpkin, gourd, zucchini, marrow, courgette Family: Cucurbitaceae (pumpkin Family)
There are about 27 species of Cucurbita, but most of the squashes familiar to Europeans, Asians and North Americans belong to one of four species, all of which are annual, tendril-bearing vines (or vine-like "bush" types derived from viny relatives). They have coarse, rather large simple leaves, usually lobed and often prickly. Squash vines may run for 10-30 ft (3.1-9.1 m) and often take root at their nodes. The plants are monoecious, having both staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers on the same vines. The flowers are yellow, bell-shaped and 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) across. Squash plants usually produce staminate flowers for several days before they even begin producing pistillate flowers. The flowers are easily distinguished because the female flower has a miniature squash (actually the ovary) at its bases and the male flower just comes right off the flower stalk. The fruits of squashes, pumpkins and gourds are technically called berries, defined as fruits that develop from single pistils and contain seeds that are not encased in stones. Within all four species, cultivars selected for their shelf life, hard skins and dry flesh are called winter squashes. Those that have tender skins and soft, moist flesh and are eaten while immature are called summer squashes. Those that are orange and round are often called pumpkins.
C. maxima cultivars have soft, spongy stems that are hairy and round in cross section. They have very large hairy leaves that are quite rounded and usually not lobed. The peduncle (fruit stalk) is cylindrical and rather soft. The seeds have lighter colored margins and thin papery coverings. Cultivars include all of the Hubbard, banana, buttercup, and turban squashes, some of the squashes that the British call "marrows", as well as many of the pumpkins.
C. mixta cultivars have hard, angled stems with soft hairs. The leaves are shallowly lobed and glabrous (without hairs) or only slightly hairy. The leaves are usually marked with white blotches. The peduncle is hard and sharply 5-angled with a corky swelling (not flared) where it attaches to the fruit. The seeds are white or tan with a lighter colored margin. Cultivars include most of the cushaws, 'Gila Cliff Dweller', the silver-seeded gourds, and many of the sweet potato squashes and potato pumpkins.
C. moschata cultivars have hard, angular stems with soft hairs. The leaves have shallow rounded lobes, white markings, and are quite hairy. The peduncle flares out where it attaches to the fruit. The seeds are white to brown with darker margins. Cultivars include all of the butternut squashes, all of the cheeses, Cuban, 'Calabaza', melon, 'Golden Cushaw', and 'Tahitian' squash.
C. pepo cultivars have hard, 5-angled stems with prickly hairs. The leaves are deeply lobed and covered with bristly hairs. The peduncle is deeply grooved and 5-angled and very hard where it attaches to the fruit. The seeds have distinctively colored margins. Cultivars include all of the acorn squashes, all of the cocozelles, most of the crooknecks and "yellow" squashes, all of the scallop squashes, 'Patty Pan', 'Sweet Dumpling', 'Delicata', 'Tatume', many of the vegetable marrows, spaghetti squash, most of the zucchinis (a.k.a. courgettes), many of the pumpkins, and most of the small ornamental multi-colored warty gourds.
All of the Cucurbita species originated in the New World. The four species treated here were important food plants to Native Americans and have been cultivated for millennia. C. maxima was developed from a wild ancestor in central South America. C. mixta was originally native to Guatemala and Mexico. C. moschata was domesticated more than 5000 years ago from wild ancestors in tropical America. C. pepo no longer occurs in the wild, but probably was derived from ancestors in North America.
CultureThe squashes are easy-to-grow warm-weather annuals. The vining types are often rampant, spreading over other plants in the garden. Summer squashes are harvested while still immature, usually 40-60 days after planting; winter squashes and pumpkins are harvested 80-140 days after planting. Most squash vines are attacked by the squash-vine borer, the larva of a fast-flying diurnal moth. The adult moth lays eggs on the stems, peduncles and immature fruits. When the egg hatches, the larva burrows into the plant and commences to eat the inside, often causing all parts of the plant beyond it to wither and die. Squash blossoms are pollinated by insects, so if you cover squash plants with spun row covers to keep the moths out, remember that you must hand-pollinate the flowers by brushing some pollen from a male flower onto the pistil of a female flower. The butternut squashes and tatume are largely immune to the squash-vine borer, and the zucchinis and yellow crook-necks develop so fast you can get a crop before the vine borers kill the plants. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: For best results, provide squash vines with regular water. Squash develop leaf diseases like downy mildew, powdery mildew and anthracnose if the humidity stays too high, so plant in an area with good air circulation, and try not to wet the leaves when irrigating. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 11. one of the squashes can tolerate frost. Plant in spring at about the frost-free date for your area. All squashes are tolerant of hot weather. Propagation: The squashes are grown from seed, planted about 1-2in deep. Space bush types 4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) apart. Grow vine types in rows 8-10 ft (2.4-3.1 m) apart, with 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) between plants.
Grow the large running squashes in the vegetable garden and just let them run all over the place between, around and under the tomatoes, peppers and other plants. Use the bush-type squashes in smaller gardens. Immature squashes (summer squashes) are watery and should not be overcooked. They are often boiled, but are better sauteed or lightly stir-fried. Actually, they are quite good raw, chopped up in salads. The drier winter squashes are at their best baked and served with butter. Try fresh squash blossoms dipped in batter and fried. All of the squashes have edible seeds, usually tastiest when roasted. A valuable vegetable oil is extracted from the seeds. C. moschata, seeds have 40-50% oil content. The young, tender tips of the fast-growing vines are eaten as a green vegetable in many parts of the world.
Steve Christman 9/8/00; updated 10/27/03, 2/9/10