Extra-ordinary: Squash blossoms

A close look at male and female blossoms

This week’s topic in one of my nature journal classes was FLOWERS. I taught about basic flower anatomy- petals, sepals, stamen and pistil, to name a few. We looked at a few of the more common plant families and characteristics of their flowers.

With this information fresh in my mind, I went out to visit the squash blossoms in our garden. Even though I grew up on a nursery and my parents grew all kinds of plants and veggies, I don’t think I ever smelled a squash blossom. I mean, I think I would remember that because I just discovered how strong it smells.

So, the other day I leaned in and smelled one. I was blown away by how intensely aromatic it was! I didn’t have the time to journal it then, so today I was back in the garden to examine this better.

Bee lapping up nectar inside a male squash blossom.

The first thing I noticed were the bees. They landed right inside the trumpet shaped flowers, tucking their heads deep down inside. I saw them stick their proboscis, or tongue, lapping up nectar! I had never seen this before- it was so cool!!

I have noticed that there were tiny zucchini fruit at the base of some flower stems, but not on others (male) of the same plant.

Nature vocabulary: A plant with both male flowers and female flowers is called monoecious (meaning one house) as opposed to dioecious (‘two house’ where male and female flowers are on separate plants).

As I started to draw it, I noted the calyx (fused sepals), the corolla (fused petals), the prickly hairs all over the stems.

This zucchini was about 10cm long.

Inside the flower were tiny hairs covering the surface of the petals- and wondered if it gave the bees a nice place to land and get traction. It reminded me of the inside a human ear!

It was really fun to draw both the male and female parts like a comparison. The female flower with close up of the center, and a zoomed out view of the flower and stem, then the male flower with similar views.

I know I’ve seen zucchini plants a many, many times, and picked many more zucchinis from plants. But I have never looked so closely or allowed myself to ask and wonder.

So, today I wondered: Why does it already have a fruit if it the flower hasn’t been pollinated yet?

I mean, apple blossoms need to be pollinated before it can turn into an apple, right?

Examining the other squash plants- patty pan and spaghetti squash- I saw some with squashes that swelled and grew larger while some tiny squashes withered on the stem. Could it be that these are the non-pollinated ones?

I wonder if the squash blossoms used in cooking are the male or female or both? Do you pick it when its open? Do you eat the reproductive parts? Are the hairs prickly when cooked? Do you need to leave enough male flowers to pollinate? Why did it evolve separate flowers instead of having both male and female parts on one flower (perfect flower)?

The female flowers had stigma that looked like three fused clubs at the tip of the stalk. The male flowers had a elongated structure, anther, with yellow powder (pollen). One striking thing were the green stripes radiating up from the collar around the base. I wondered, could this be to direct pollinators to the nectar source, like a target? It reminds me of the people standing on the tarmac at the airport, waving orange batons, to direct a plane to the right jetway.

There is always something to learn, even in the subjects that are so common. But I think its because its so common, that we neglect to give it much attention. We recognize a squash blossom and don’t see the wonder in each flower.

This was so fascinating and fun to nature journal. It reminds me again, that nature will always surprise those who are paying close attention.

Go outside and take a closer look at something ordinary and see if YOU an find something extra-ordinary!

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