The secret life of squash blossoms

Male squash blossom

Male squash blossom

Female fruit and incipient blossom

Female fruit and incipient blossom

Recently I got all excited that I might be able to pick my own squash blossoms, batter them, and fry them up. Maybe even stuff them. Who knows?

“Only pick the males!” my sister warned me.

Males? Females? I felt the anxiety of 10th-grade Biology and Colonel Dick’s disparaging gaze welling within me.

My simple little garden was suddenly a mysterious, frightening jungle. How would I ever be able to tell the difference between a yellow blossom and a yellow blossom?

I don’t have Col. Dick any more. But I do have the Internet, ready to link my living room to my back yard. And the Internet doesn’t give demerits or penalize for not identifying your pistils and stamens.

Turns out that there’s something called fertilization. Squash provides a male and a female bloom. There are way more males than females, and it’s usually the male blossoms that you see first, before there are any females. Also, males grow on a long, slender stalk, and the female has the “swollen, embryonic” fruit at its base. This fruit is your squash-to-be.

Remarkably, the blossoms of both sexes are open and fertile only in the morning hours of one day! If the female isn’t pollinated during those few hours, she will drop to the ground and her fruit won’t mature. The males may blossom again, but they won’t be fertile.

I was shocked (and pleased) to discover that if you’re not getting enough squash, you can actually help Mother Nature along a bit with a Q-Tip. (Again, even if you didn’t do so well in Biology.)

Now I wonder how the bees and other insects find my little garden. I pull up a chair sometimes and wait for them with a good book. But they must visit in the night or be very tiny. Or else, there’s a kindly neighbor with a Q-Tip.

Oh, yes, I did batter and fry. I have yet to stuff a squash blossom. But, according to my cousin Nancy, there’s still time!


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