The Q&A Archives: Pollinating Chinese Squash

Question: My friend gave me some seedlings of a Chinese summer squash which is a prolific grower. Its leaves are broad, something like a cucumber leave. Its fruit, if set properly, grows very large very quickly (achieves a foot within the week).

Recently, the weather is getting cooler. I tried to pollinate some of the female flower myself. With zucchinis, I had no problem breaking open a new female flower, pollinate it and have it set into a fruit. But with this summer squash, I have noticed that it does not set fruit with manual pollination. Its fruit actually gets big before the female flower opens to invite bees to pollinate. After that, the fruit grows rapidly from two inches to four to five inches. Soon, its a eight inches long and three to four inches in girdth.

After this experience, I am confused as to when this summer squash actually gets pollinated and set fruit. It appears to grow the fruit to an inch and a half to two inches before the female flower matures and opens.

Would you please help un-confuse me? Thanks so much.

Answer: I have not grown this particular summer squash, but I can speculate on what's going on here. The swollen area behind the female flower is the ovary; once the flower is pollinated and the egg is fertilized, the ovary is technically called a fruit. It sounds like, in this variety, the ovary enlarges quite a bit before the flower is pollinated and the ovary "officially" becomes a fruit.

The stigmas, or female parts, of the flower don't become fully receptive until the flower opens. So pollination by insects isn't occuring until this time. I suspect that, if the flower is never pollinated, the enlarged, fruit-like ovary will not mature.

I hope this helps. By the way, if you are hoping to save seed from this unusual summer squash, you'll need to take precautions that the flowers are not cross-pollinated with other squashes. You might enjoy reading a book called "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties" by Carol Deppe. It's fascinating!

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