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How to Identify Squash & Melon Plants

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Unidentifiable plants may appear in your garden if you have recently taken over a previously owned plot, live in an area where seed spillage is likely, lost your plant labels or simply forgot what you planted. Because squash and melon plants are in the same family, Cucurbitaceae, they have many common features, making morphological traits poor means of identification. The best identifiers are the growing region, season of production and the properties of the plants and their fruit.

Compare your region and growing zone with the ideal growth conditions of squash and melons. For example, watermelon is a warm-season plant that grows best in southern states, making it unlikely that the plant would appear in a garden in Maine. Likewise, winter squash grows poorly in southern states.

Consult a growing calendar and use the seasonal harvesting information to guide your identification. For example, watermelons appear on the vine in June and grow through September, while summer squash will start appearing in May and winter squash may not be picked until August. A plant blossoming in April, therefore, is likely a summer squash or melon.

Examine the produce. Depress the skin with your thumbnail. If you are able to pierce the skin easily you most likely have a summer squash.

Note physical characteristics such as shape, size, color and skin toughness: pumpkins and buttercup squash have orange skin; watermelon has distinctive green skin with yellow-green stripes; bitter melon has a dry, wrinkled appearance; honeydew melons are round, light green and smooth; cucumbers have a cool, dark green exterior; acorn squash is acorn-shaped; and turban squash resemble two stacked discs.

Identify Squash & Melon Plants

If you are trying to identify plants, the easiest way would be with a picture book or even your smartphone. There are gardening apps that will allow you to simply take a picture of the plant, and the app will come up with the identity of the unidentifiable plant. Trying to identify squash and melon plants can be difficult since they are both in the same family (Cucurbitaceae spp.) and have many common features. The fruit of the species C. moschata presents with smooth leaves that are often mottled, displaying very large, rounded flowers. The stem is normally five-sided and flares out where it attaches to the fruit. Ripe fruits are tan in color, and immature fruits can be light green or dark green. Fruit can grow up to 30 pounds with a shape that is round or elongated. Melon vines are hardy (USDA hardiness zones 4 through 10), enjoying a region comprising much of the southern and central United States. Squash leaves will also present with toothed edges and pucker or wrinkle marginally around the veins. The summer and winter forms are based entirely on the perishability of the fruit. Very young plants such as tiny seedlings can be difficult to distinguish from weeds since seedlings do not pattern themselves after the leaves of the mature plant. In order to be certain of vegetable plant identification by leaf, you will have to wait several weeks. Fruits of the zucchini plant (Cucurbita pepo) are long and narrow and somewhat larger at the blossom end, with a corky, round stem.

Tip

Squash and melon are both in the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae.

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