Zucchini: A Plant That Came To The U.S. In 1920, But That’s Not All…

Among summer squashes, zucchini is an easy one to grow. Once you’ve planted the seeds, the plants thrive and produce abundant fruits. Yes, zucchini, Cucurbita pepo, is botanically a fruit, though we like to use it as a vegetable for our various culinary purposes. What is the zucchini plant, and what are its many uses? Let’s find out everything before you plant it in your garden this season.

Did you know that 8th August marks the “National Sneak Some Zucchinis Into Your Neighbor’s Porch Day” for gardeners? That’s because zucchini are at their best around this time. They produce so abundantly that you might want to get rid of some of the harvests!

Common NameZucchini, Courgette, Summer Squash
Botanical NameCucurbita Pepo
Plant TypeAnnual
Size (Fully Grown)A Spread Of 10 To 16 Square Feet (About 0,93 To 1,5 m²)
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Soil TypeLoamy
Soil pHFrom 6.0 To 7.0
Flower ColorOrange, Yellow
U.S. Hardiness Zones3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, And 9
Native AreaCentral America And Mexico

Different Zucchini Types

These warm-season crops come in many different varieties to choose from, though Wikipedia only mentions three of them. You might picture green cylindrical vegetables when you hear the name zucchini, but they come in tons of different shapes and colors.

All zucchini aren’t long and cylindrical; there are also plump, short varieties. The surface can be smooth or ridged. Skin color comes in many different green shades, from lighter tones with dark green streaks to completely dark green. You’ll also find some yellow cultivars. Here are some of the most popular zucchini varieties you’ll surely like to have in your garden.

  1. Dunja
  2. Magda
  3. Zephyr
  4. Caserta
  5. Cocozelle
  6. Gadzukes
  7. Golden Egg
  8. Rampicante
  9. Black Beauty
  10. Gourmet Gold
  11. Round Zucchini
  12. Pattypan Squash
  13. Crookneck Squash

The Centuries-old History Of Zucchini

The zucchini or courgette that we know today has its roots in the Americas. Archeological records date back squash seeds found in areas that are now Mexico to 9000 to 4000 BC.

After Columbus discovered the “new world,” squash seeds were brought back to Europe. But, the zucchini that we’re familiar with today wasn’t developed until the 1800s. The first cultivars appeared near Milan, Italy.

The first written description of the fruit variety under the name zucchini appears in 1901 in Milan’s publication. Though zucchini varieties even existed before that, they were usually named after their cultivated cities.

Back To America!

Although squash originated in the Americas to start with, zucchini, in the form we know it today, made its way back to the United States somewhere around the early 1920s. This was when Italian immigrants settled in the US, bringing seeds of edibles from their region.

Back in the US, cultivation initially began in California. According to a report on vegetables grown in New York in 1928, Zucchini is a cultivated variety of Cucurbita pepo.

Where Does Zucchini Gets Its Name From?

Since its initial cultivations are rooted in Italy, the plant gets its name from there. Zucchini is a plural diminutive word for “Zucca,” which means pumpkin in Italian.

Courgette, another name for the same vegetable, is a French word. It is the diminutive word for “courge,” French for gourd or marrow. In fact, in many countries, including the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand, a mature courgette is called the marrow.

In South Africa, zucchini is harvested as an immature fruit from the marrow plant and referred to as baby marrow.

© FuzullHanum – stock.adobe.com

What Does A Zucchini Plant Look Like?

Zucchinis grow on short vines that can take up to 40 to 60 days to reach the first fruits’ maturity and spread to 10 to 16 square feet (about 1 to 1,5 m2) across the garden bed. The plants start by growing upright, and then they lean over as they get bigger.

They often grow so extensively that the vines overshadow neighboring plants growing in the same bed. You might even have to prune it a bit to ensure that it won’t block sunlight from itself or other plants.

Zucchinis are often confused with their cousin, cucumber, because of the vines and the fruits’ similar appearance. Although they’re closely related and part of the cucurbit family, they’re two different vegetables.

The Root

Zucchinis have an extensive roots system. This includes a taproot that can protrude as deep as 3 feet (about 91 cm) into the soil surface. Branches extend in all directions. This means that if you’re growing zucchinis in a container, choose a deep one to allow the roots to grow freely.

Foliage

Zucchinis have elongated, serrated leaves with a concave center. Their diameter is usually 12 inches (approximately 30 cm) or larger and held by thick, hollow stems covered by prickly hair.

The leaves are edible, but if you plan on using them for culinary purposes, you’ll want to pick them while the plant is still young so that you can cook and use them in your recipes. The reason for using young leaves is that leaves from mature plants are often bitter.

Zucchini Blooms

They produce large, trumpet-shaped yellow or orange flowers, typical of all squashes. It’s the female blossoms that produce zucchinis. Male flowers, slightly smaller, grow on the same plant. You can distinguish them with their smaller size and the fact that they grow on the stems in the leaf axils. Both types of flowers are edible. But, young flowers that are still firm and only partially open are often preferred for picking and used for culinary uses.

The Fruit Itself

Zucchinis come in various shapes and sizes. It’s the immature fruit on the plant that’s called zucchini. Although the fruit can reach a length of up to 3,3 feet (about one meter) when fully mature, it’s still usually harvested when it’s 6 to 7,9 inches (15 to 20 cm) in length. The skin is typically dark or light green, with or without streaks.

What Conditions Does Zucchini Like To Grow In?

Zucchini will thrive even with the little effort you put in. It will grow happily in most conditions, but it helps to know what it prefers so you can get those abundant harvests in no time.

Temperature

Zucchinis are a warm-season crop that will thrive if the soil and air temperatures are above 65°F (about 18°C). Since the seeds won’t germinate in cold soil, plant them in the ground only once the soil temperature is above 60°F (about 15,5°C), and the danger of frost is over.

Zucchinis are very sensitive to cold and will not tolerate frost. Even if the seeds do germinate in cold conditions, the growth will be stunted. Most gardeners like to cover the soil with a black plastic sheet before sowing the seeds to warm up the ground.

Soil And Location

Plant zucchinis in full sun, well-draining, loamy soil. Most gardeners amend the soil with well-aged compost before planting to help the young plants grow. Space the seedlings 2 to 4 feet (approximately 0,61 to 1,22 meters) apart by thinning them once the first set of real leaves appear.

Each plant will take some space to grow, so you shouldn’t crowd the garden bed. A good practice is to plant them on small hills to help the soil warm up quickly with the start of spring.

Watering And Feeding

Zucchinis, like most vegetables, prefer consistent moisture throughout the growing season. Ensure that they receive a bit of water each week because water-stressed plants are more susceptible to diseases and infestations. Mulching the soil with organic material also helps preserve soil moisture.

Once you’ve prepared the garden bed with well-aged compost, the plants should have plenty of nutrients to grow. Don’t use a lot of fertilizers, especially nitrogen-rich ones. Excess nitrogen in the soil can lower your yield. Side-dressing with well-aged compost every month or so will help replenish the ground of the lost nutrients.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Zucchinis?

We all know that eating a zucchini has many health benefits. But, in this section, you’ll learn if zucchinis are safe for you if you’re pregnant or if you have a common medical condition in which it needs to be avoided. You’ll also learn about any allergies you need to look out for.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Zucchinis are rich in folates and contain riboflavin, which helps develop the baby’s heart. While they’re healthy for pregnant and breastfeeding women, they should be consumed in moderate amounts.

Children

They’re perfectly safe for children and can be included in their diet from the age of 10 months. The plant may cause allergies or digestive problems, so it’s best not to give it to infants younger than 8 to 10 months.

People With Allergies

It may cause allergies in some individuals; symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. You need to be especially careful if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

People With Diabetes

Zucchinis are high in fibers and low on carbs. They can help regulate blood sugar levels, making them especially beneficial for people with diabetes.

Pets

Like most other squashes, Zucchini is non-toxic to cats and dogs, so you can plant them without worry, even if you have pets in your home. If you want, you can also include chunks of this healthy vegetable in their dinner bowl. Chances are, they’ll love the change!

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