Types of Winter Squash: Delicata, Acorn and More

Learn the history and classification behind a number of heirloom squash, all of which make great storage vegetables during long, winter months.

| Fall 2016

Acorn squash

Acorn squash is a reliable storage vegetable that will keep through winter.

Photo by Fotolia/Reezabrat

Of the fall and winter storage vegetables, winter squash is one of the easiest to grow, one of the few to form aboveground, and the only one that is actually a fruit. The fruit itself is known as a pepo — a modified or epigynous berry.

Many heirloom squash fruits are classified as small — under 5 to 6 pounds. All the plants are prodigious when it comes to vining — in some cultivars a bit less so than their larger cousins. Heirloom semibush cultivars exist, represented by summer squash, and clever plant breeders have created modern bush winter squash cultivars.

One of the difficulties with hybrid winter squash is that the fruit often outweighs the everyday needs of a modern household, reaching 15 to 30 pounds or more.

Squash are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which consists of more than 800 species and is populated by such relatives as gourds, watermelons, cucumbers, winter melons, cantaloupes, and gherkins. Generally these are vining plants of tropical or semitropical origin from the Old and New World. In other words, they like warmth and are frost sensitive. The Cucurbita genus is characterized by about 20 New World species, four of which are familiar to most of us through their edible fruits, including the pepo squash.

Native Types of Winter Squash

Many wild species are native to North America, especially Mexico. In the United States, these include the Missouri gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima), finger-leaved gourd (C. digitata), coyote melon (C. palmata), Texas gourd (C. texana), and the wild C. pepo.

C. pepo are classically thought of as the orange pumpkins and other types of winter squash, such as members within the acorn, spaghetti, and delicata groups. Summer squash groups, including yellow summer squash, zucchini, pattypan, and bush scallop, are part of this species as well.

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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