JULY
2005

 

 

 

By
B. Rosie Lerner
 
Purdue Extension
Consumer
Horticulturist

 

 

 

 

 

07-07-05

Squashkins and Cucumelons?

As you plant out your vegetable transplants and seeds in the garden, have you ever wondered what happens if you grow a zucchini squash next to a giant pumpkin? Do you end up with squashkins? Will planting cucumbers next to watermelons yield cucumelons?

These two examples are not likely to cross-pollinate one another, so the answer is probably "no." Plants of different species usually do not cross-pollinate in nature. Cross-pollination does frequently take place among some of the winter squash, pumpkins and gourds that are closely related. But the results of such a cross would not be evident in this year's fruit.

To further explain, we must first discuss a little botany. The fruit of any plant is actually a mature ovary, botanically speaking. The seed inside is similar to a child while the fruit is analogous to the mother. The seed, or child, has characteristics of both parents. The fruit remains whatever the mother plant was to begin with. In other words, if cross-pollination did take place, the seed, not the fruit, would be result of that cross.

The seed would have to be harvested, stored and planted out the following year to determine if cross-pollination had an effect. Then, the resulting fruit on those plants might look like a combination of both parents.

If you do turn up some unexpectedly odd-looking fruits in your squash patch, it is possible that the seed packet contained a few seeds that were of questionable parentage. However, it is more likely that a "volunteer" squash from last year's garden is the culprit.

Corn is the exception to the rule; cross-pollination does affect this year's corn crop. In this case, the kernel of corn is both seed and fruit at the same time. So the outcome of cross-pollination in corn can be dramatically obvious. Yellow color in corn is dominant over white, so a white variety that gets pollinated by a yellow variety will have some kernels of each color (called bi-colored). Starchy field corn or popcorn is dominant over sweet corn. So sweet corn that gets some stray pollen from field corn will have some kernels that are starchy. Each kernel is the result of a separate pollination incident, so if only a small amount of contaminating pollen is at work, the result in flavor might not be noticed in a mouthful of otherwise sweet kernels.

 

Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox