In the Vegetable Garden on Linnaeus Day: Seminole Squash

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I am an enthusiastic grower of heirloom vegetables, but I don’t think there has been another vegetable whose history has interested me more than Seminole Squash (cucurbita moschata), an heirloom we inherited from the Seminole Indians. The Seminoles are local to the area where I live, and I have been lucky enough to find arrowheads on our property that connect us to our not-so-distant Native American past.

Seminole squash was a main nutritional crop for southern Native Americans. With excellent keeping quality, it sustained the tribe through winter. It has been cultivated by the Seminole Indians since the 1500’s. This gorgeous squash reminds me of Parisian pumpkins in its shape and beauty. Teardrop-shaped and weighing in at about three pounds, the tan squashes have a sweet, orange flesh that is similar in texture and flavor to butternut squash. It is perfect for making incredibly delicious soup, amongst many other culinary delights. The vines are sturdy and well-adapted to a hot and humid climate. The exuberant vines will clamber up a tree or trellis to 40 feet in length. They are bug and disease resistant, a huge plus for any organic gardener. Why wouldn’t one want to have this historical and culinary treasure in the garden?

Seminole squash is now on the Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) 10 most endangered American foods list. I discovered through researching this beautiful squash that white settlers practiced one of the first forms of biological warfare by destroying this extremely important nutritional crop, starving this proud tribe by depriving them of a main source of nutrition during the winter months. While the history is a painful part of our past, it pleases me to share the knowledge about this great vegetable with others.

I received my first Seminole squash from my favorite local independent garden center, Just Fruits and Exotics this past fall. The owner, Brandy Cowley-Gilbert, shares my passion for growing interesting fruits and vegetables organically, and her enthusiasm for Seminole squash encouraged me to save the seeds from the squash that I brought home. The squash is now flourishing in the garden, companion-planted with sweet corn, a traditional combination in the vegetable garden. I have also shared this treasured seed with several of my favorite gardening friends. One by one, we can help to save this piece of American history from extinction by growing it our gardens and sharing the seeds with other gardeners.

Botanical name: cucurbita moschata

Light: Full sun

Height: Vines can grow to 40 feet

Bloom time: Spring to summer

Harvest: 110 days. OP.

This post is part of the meme, Linnaeus Day, created by Christopher Tidrick (From the Soil). Each month on the 23rd, garden bloggers delve more deeply into the history and characteristics of a plant in their own gardens. Visit Chris’s blog to find more Linnaeus Day posts.

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