Par Larry Hodgson
Squashes are masters at crossing with their neighbors. Even varieties that are very different in appearance, such as zucchini, pumpkin, patty pan and vegetable spaghetti are all derived from the same species (Cucurbita pepo) and will cross readily. The fruits that result from crossed seed will be hybrids (mongrels), therefore likely intermediate in appearance, taste, and texture between the two parents, and not usually what you want.
(Do note that such illicit crosses don’t affect the current season’s fruits. A spaghetti squash plant will always produce spaghetti squashes, even if its flowers are pollinated by a patty pan or a zucchini. It’s the second generation, that is, plants grown from the seeds of a crossed flower, where genes get mixed up!)
If you intend to harvest squash seeds for next year’s sowing, it’s therefore best to limit yourself to growing only one variety in your entire vegetable garden. In community gardens, where a wide variety of squashes are sown, it’s probably best not to save seeds.
Commercial growers of squash seed leave a mile (about 1.5 km) between plants to ensure varietal purity. Even then, it sometimes happens that a squash plant you grew from seed produces fruit that looks nothing like those in the seed pack’s picture. If so, just blame an errant bee!
Can Squash Cross With Cucumbers?
No, there is no risk that a squash will cross with a cucumber, nor with a melon, despite what you sometimes read on Facebook. It is true that these three vegetables are related (they belong to the Cucurbitaceae family), but they’re distant relatives, no more closely related than, say, a house cat and a tiger, and no cross is possible. I mean, how many catigers wander your neighborhood?
On the other hand, if you want to save cucumber seeds and ensure the purity of the line, you should also limit yourself to one variety per garden. And the same goes for melons: you also have to stick to growing one variety in isolation if your goal is to save the seeds.
Text based on an article originally published in this blog on September 4, 2016.