The Summer Sex Life of Squash: How To Tell Between Male and Female Squash Blossoms

We adore squash blossoms. When stuffed, battered, and fried, they are one of summer's chief delicacies. But we always had a slight sense of unease when buying them. Wasn't it quite a sacrifice for the farmer to sell each flower, since he was essentially sacrificing a future squash? Wouldn't this flower someday grow into a much larger (and more substantial) vegetable? It seemed almost greedy to eat a flower and deny it its future as a squash!

Well, it turns out that we were wrong. Not all squash blossoms will turn into a squash, and we can eat most of the blossoms in our own squash patch with impunity. Why? Read on for an enlightening trip into squash botany, with gender, sex, and fertilization featuring high on the program.

The answer is really quite simple. Squash blossoms come in two genders: male and female. Only female squash blossoms mature into a squash. The male is just there to, well, fertilize them. As in, ahem, other parts of nature, the male blossoms rather outweigh and outnumber the female flowers. The females usually grow close to the center of the squash plant, squatting low on stubby stalks that, when fertilized, quickly balloon into miniature squash.

Here are a couple images of a female squash blossom:

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The male, on the other hand, is showy and numerous. He grows on long stalks that wind throughout the plant, too; a male blossom will always be on the end of a much longer stalk than the female.

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That's all there is to it. If you already have a few baby squashes swelling on your vines, you are quite free to pick the male blossoms, stuff them, and fry them up. Just watch out for bees and other little insects; they love to nestle inside those wide open flowers!

Have you been eating squash blossoms this summer?

Related: Five Ways to Eat Squash Blossoms

(Images: Faith Durand)