Butternut Squash: All About This Plant That Is High In Vitamin A?

Butternut squash, Cucurbita moschata, is a popular cultivar among the exhaustive list of winter squashes. Popular as butternut pumpkin or “gramma” in Australia and New Zealand, it’s a nutritious vegetable with a sweet, nutty flavor, much like pumpkin.

Unlike summer squashes, a winter squash, such as butternut squash, is harvested once the skin turns hard around autumn to store through the winters. In contrast, summer squashes perish quickly.

What is the butternut squash plant, how is it used, and how does it grow? Read on, and you’ll find everything about this sweet cultivar. Botanically a fruit, butternut squash is used in several recipes. Roasted, sauteed, pureed into soups, or mashed into squash pies and muffins, it’s delicious and nutritious no matter how you serve it.

The plant is also a rich source of Vitamin A and provides Vitamins C, E, B6, and antioxidants. In addition, it’s low on calories and offers plenty of dietary fibers.

Besides an impressive nutrient profile, butternut squash is a garden favorite since the fast-growing vine matures in about 2 to 4 months, giving bundles of large, sweet fruits to enjoy right away or store through the winters. In addition, it stays fresh for over three months without refrigeration or canning when stored properly. Let’s find out more about this fantastic vegetable.

Common NameButternut Squash, Butternut Pumpkin, Gramma
Botanical NameCucurbita Moschata
Plant TypeAn Annual Vine
Size (Fully Grown)10 To 12 Feet (About 3 to 3,66 Meters) Spread
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Soil TypeA Fertile Soil That Drains Well
Soil pHFrom 6.0 To 6.8
Flower ColorYellow
U.S. Hardiness Zones3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, And 10
Native AreaMassachusetts, USA

The Different Butternut Squash Types

There are several varieties available. Though the fruit looks and tastes pretty much the same, the length of the growing season and spread of the vine can vary with the cultivar. The fruit’s size will also vary with the type of butternut squash that you choose to grow.

A good tip is to look for compact varieties if you only have a small vegetable garden to spare. Some cultivars will even grow in containers. Here’s a list of some popular butternut squash cultivars.

  1. ButterBaby
  2. Metro PMR
  3. Black Futsu
  4. Waldo PMR
  5. JWS 6823 PMR
  6. Argonaut Hybrid
  7. Butter Boy Hybrid
  8. Butterscotch PMR
  9. Waltham Butternut
  10. Burpee’s Butterbush
  11. Rogosa Violina Gioia

Where Does Butternut Squash Originate From?

Although squash dates back to the Egyptians, butternut squash has made its appearance recently. Early butternut squashes existed in the United States around the 1930s as a mutation of Canadian crookneck squash.

Different cultivars were bred to improve fruits ‘ shape with the growing demand for smaller, straight-necked squashes to ease transportation compared to the heavy crookneck varieties.

The first successful experiment to create a dependable cultivar was carried out by Charles Leggett of Stow, Massachusetts, in 1944. He crossed gooseneck squash with other squashes in his backyard until he selected the best breed to present to the Waltham Agricultural Experiment field station, creating quite a stir.

At this point, the new squash was named “butternut,” thanks to its buttery smoothness and nutty sweetness. Soon after, Professor Robert E. Young from Massachusetts College of Agriculture worked on Leggett’s original butternut squash to create the “Waltham” butternut squash, named after the research station.

The vegetable is widely available in grocery stores and farmers’ markets in Central America, North America, South America, Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It’s also a popular choice in home gardens in many regions.

What Does The Butternut Squash Look Like?

Butternut squash vines grow differently, depending on the cultivar. Long-vining varieties can span over 10 to 12 feet (about 3 to 3,66 meters), such as the “Waltham” butternut. Others are compact varieties, such as “Autumn Glow,” that spread only up to 4 feet (about 1,22 meters). Some cultivars are bushy rather than vining.

The vines are either sprawling in the garden horizontally or growing vertically up a trellis. The plant looks much like all other squash vines with large leaves, yellow flowers, and tendrils attached to surfaces.

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Foliage

Butternut squash vines have large, lobed, hairy leaves and thick, hairy stems. The curling tendrils grab onto surfaces as the vine grows. Though the leaves are edible, they might be too rough to eat raw, along with the rest of the plant.

If you plan on consuming them, harvest the younger leaves. The new growth is more tender but will need to be finely chopped and cooked before serving.

Flowers

Butternut squash produces the large, yellow-orange flowers typical of squash vines. Both male and female blooms are present on the same vine. These flowers attract many beneficial insects, especially bees, to promote pollination. The female flowers have an immature fruit at the end, while the male flowers have a “beard.”

Gardeners usually keep the female flowers in place for fruit development while the male flowers are picked and consumed. You’ll find these around late spring to early fall. They can be baked, sauteed, or deep-fried for a bright addition to dishes.

The Fruit

The fruit is the main attraction of this vine. The size can vary with the cultivar, but most butternut squashes will have the same shape. It has a slim, straight neck and a bulbous bottom. The skin is pale, sometimes marked with pale green stripes, while the flesh inside is bright orange-yellow.

They’re harvested once the skin turns hard and used in many ways. It can be steamed, sauteed, baked, grilled, roasted, or mashed into soups.

What Kind Of Growing Conditions Does Butternut Squash Prefer?

Butternut squash is easy to grow and yields plenty of delicious, nutritious fruits in very little time. But, there are certain things you should keep in mind when growing these vines:

What Temperature Does Butternut Squash Need To Grow?

Butternut squash is usually planted through the summers and harvested in the fall since they need warm soil for the seeds to germinate. They are planted once the dangers of frost have passed and the soil has warmed up to 60 to 65°F (15 to 18°C).

It takes about 60 to 120 warm growing days to reach maturity. But the growing season is short, so many gardeners start the seeds indoors and transplant the seedlings in the garden once the weather has warmed up.

Soil And Sun

Plant butternut squash at a site with full sun in fertile, well-draining soil. Amend it with plenty of well-rotted organic matter before planting the seeds or seedlings since it needs a lot of nutrients to thrive.

Water And Fertilizer

Water the plant consistently, not letting the soil dry out as the seedlings grow bigger. The vines will need even more water during the hot summer days.

Fertilize the vines regularly throughout the growing season to get an abundant harvest. If you want to stay organic, side dressing with pelleted chicken manure or compost is a good option.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Butternut Squash?

Low on calories but high in nutrients, butternut squash is a healthy vegetable. It’s rich in Vitamin A, potassium, fibers, and antioxidants. But, are there any risks involved in certain conditions? Let’s find out.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

There are no risks associated with butternut squash consumption during pregnancy and nursing. Instead, it offers plenty of nutrients for the baby’s healthy development.

Children

Pureed butternut squash is a nutritious and delicious addition to a baby’s diet, and you can feed it to your baby when they are only six months old. Most kids will love it, thanks to the naturally sweet flavor. It’s good for the eyes, hair, skin, and digestion.

People With Allergies

Butternut squash can sometimes cause contact dermatitis to some individuals. The symptoms result from contacting the vegetable. Individuals with allergies should wear latex gloves when handling this plant.

People With Diabetes

Butternut squash is suitable for people with type-1 and type-2 diabetes. It’s a fiber-rich vegetable that helps manage blood sugar and insulin levels.

Pets

All parts of the plant are non-toxic to cats and dogs. So you can safely grow the vine in your garden and even offer the fruit to your pets without worrying about side effects.

Featured image credit – © zigzagmtart – stock.adobe.com

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