Friday, July 29, 2011

Let's Talk About (Squash) Sex

One of the most frequent things I am asked, when conversations turn to the garden, is how I know whether the blossoms on my pumpkins, zucchini, and butternut squashes are male or female.  And I just love to talk about (squash) sex!

Now, this is still a PG-rated blog, so I'm not using this as a euphemism, for all of you who are taking "hide the zucchini" a little too literally.  No, I mean the fact that not all squash blossoms are created equal.  There are males and females, and, like all organisms with two sexes, you need both to get a baby.  In this case we want our baby to be a bouncing one pound zucchini or five pound pie pumpkin, so it helps to know if your squash plants are setting up the proper conditions for procreation.

The above picture is of a male zucchini blossom.  See how the flower is lifted up on a fairly thin stem?  This stem will never produce a zucchini fruit; its purpose is to get that delicious pollen out for the bees to pick up and deliver to female flowers.  Therefore, this is the male.  You can often see the male flowers bloom in the mornings because they are so much more apparent than the females.  It is also typical for a squash plant to put out many males before it produces any females, so the bees get used to where to go to get their pollen.  Some years, I have had plants with only males, and then I did not get any squash.

Now, this is a female.  In this case, it is a female pumpkin blossom.  It has been fertilized, which I know because I have watched it get slightly bigger this week.  The fruit, in this case a pumpkin, sits behind the blossom and waits for the blossom to be fertilized.  If it is not, it will yellow, dry, and fall off.  If it does, you can see it start to plump up, and it looks green and healthy when the blossom falls off, as this blossom did when I moved the leaves to take a picture.

So now you know!  If this is new information to you, remember that you are never to old to keep learning about sex!
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  1. Hmmm, good info. Now, I need to investigate tomato sex.

  2. Ahhh ... this is a big help. My late-planted zucchini ("easiest plant in the world to grow" says everyone) probably didn't have time for the bees to get their bearings and do their job! Thank you for "the talk" :)