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Cucurbit Species

Zucchini flower turning into a fruit.Cucurbits (squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons) are a bit more difficult seed-saving candidates than peas and beans because cucurbits hybridize readily.  If you're careful, though, they can be on your easy seed-saving list.

The trick to saving cucurbit seeds is understanding which varieties are related.  If you haven't had biology in a while, now's the time to remember that any individuals within the same species can interbreed, while individuals of different species mostly can't interbreed.  (That, after all, is the definition of a species.)  So, if you only grow one variety in each cucurbit species, you're pretty much home free.

Butternut squashSome species are simple --- cucumbers are all in the same species (Cucumis sativus) while most melons are in a related but distinct species (Cucumis melo.)  Watermelons are in their own species --- Citrillus vulgaris.  So, if you want to save cucumber seeds, plan to only grow one variety of cucumber in your garden.  Same with melons, though you can grow watermelons and canteloupes side by side with no problems since they're in different species.  If you want to save seeds from two different kinds of watermelons, you need to either separate the plants by at least half a mile (hah!), or cover the flowers with a bag before they open and hand-pollinate them.  That clearly goes beyond our easy seed-saving mentality.

How about squashes?  That's where the taxonomy gets messy.  Even though gardeners divide squashes up into winter and summer squash, there are actually four species which cover the vegetables we call squashes:

  • Cucurbita pepo --- all summer squashes (zucchini, yellow squashes, etc.), some varieties of pumpkins, and pattypan, spaghetti, delicata, and acorn squash
  • Cucurbita moschata --- butternut squash
  • Cucurbita mixta --- cushaw, some pumpkins
  • Cucurbita maxima --- kabocha squash, some pumpkins

Now, if, like me, you've decided that the only winter squash worth growing is butternut, you can save your seeds with no problems since butternuts are in their own species.  However, if you want to save summer squash seed, you should plan to grow only one variety and to delete the other members of that species from your garden (and from your neighbor's garden if they live within half a mile.)


This post is part of our Seed Saving lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Just a question about Japanese Squash "Hokkaido", does this come under Acorn Squash?
Comment by Brian Joffin Tue Nov 6 14:18:40 2012
Brian --- Wikipedia puts Hokkaido squash in Cucurbita maxima, but I don't know for sure there is only one variety called Hokkaido. (A quick search of the internet shows up a lot of different-looking squash.) One way to be sure in borderline cases is to contact the seed company and ask them which species they sell.
Comment by anna Tue Nov 6 16:17:40 2012

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