Gerald L. Klingaman
Plant Common Name
Butternut Squash, Cheese Pumpkin, Golden Cushaw Squash, Gourd, Pumpkin, Squash, Winter Crookneck Squash, Winter Squash
This sprawling, warm season annual vine originates from the Americas, and has been cultivated since ancient times for its fleshy, nutritious fruits. A diverse species, Cucurbita moschata produces squash in a wide array of shapes, sizes and colors. Many of these are pumpkin-like in appearance, however, true pumpkins are actually members of the closely related species Cucurbita pepo.
These vining, tendril-producing plants can grow quickly to a very large size, and are covered with huge, lobed green leaves that are coarse, hairy and can irritate the skin. Like most cucurbits, separate male and female flowers appear on the same plant. These blossoms are large, golden yellow, trumpet-shaped and pollinated by bees. The male flowers open first on the vine, followed by the female flowers, distinguished by bulbous ovaries at their bases which develop into mature fruits following pollination.
Well-known varieties of Cucurbita moschata include the popular, smooth-fleshed butternut squash, as well as many gourds and summer squash cultivars. In general, the mature, tough-skinned fruits are edible, with smooth to fibrous, starchy, gold to orange flesh that can vary widely in flavor and color. A few types can be harvested when the fruits are immature and tender, but most are treated as winter squash, ripening in late summer to fall. Each contains a cavity filled with numerous ivory or tan seeds with scalloped edges. These can be roasted and eaten, or dried and saved for the following year's garden.
The seeds of Cucurbita moschata can be directly sown into mounds of rich, light soil and must be planted after the danger of frost has past. Full sun is required for successful flowering and fruiting, and the plants generally prefer warm temperatures. The fruits are typically ready for harvest from 90 to 120 days after sowing. To reduce the risk of fungal problems, avoid unnecessary wetting of vine stems and leaves. Monitor closely for stem borers, leaf bugs and beetles. As fruits mature in autumn, deer, birds and rodents may browse them, so protect as needed. Mature squash should be harvested before heavy frosts when their color is solid, the rinds firm, and the vines begin to brown and die back. Cut carefully from the vine, leaving a short stem for easy handling and to discourage fruit rot. Take care not to cut or bruise the skin, and store the fruit in a cool, dry, frost-free location.