Squash are annual herbaceous plants of the genus Cucurbita, widely cultivated for their fruits, to feed both humans and animals.
Most cultivated varieties belong to one of four species C. maxima, C. pepo, C. moschata and C. mixta. The first originated in South America and includes the large winter squash and pumpkins, and a few smaller varieties, such as Buttercup. C. pepo originated in subtropical North America and includes the small pie pumpkins, vegetable spaghetti, acorn squash, and the summer squashes, as well as the day-blooming gourds. Butternut squash is 'C. Moschata, and the cushaws are C. mixta.
Squash were major staple foods for pre-Columbian civilizations, which developed a huge range of varieties from them. They were one of the Three Sisters that were the foundation of Native American agriculture, and were introduced to European colonists in the early 1600s and quickly transported to the Old World.
Squash are functionally divided into summer and winter varieties. Summer squash are eaten immature, before the rind has hardened, and soon after harvesting, as they do not keep well. The blossoms of these squash are also sometimes eaten boiled or sautéed. This group includes zucchini, crookneck and straightneck squash.
"Winter squash" actually mature throughout the autumn or winter, depending on the variety. These squash are eaten fully mature, and can be kept for long periods of time for being used. This group includes pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash. Most varieties are baked, in or out of the rind, and the seeds of some are eaten as well.
Most squashes prefer a warm, dry summer and soil with a high organic content. Most squash plants are trailing, but some summer squashes form bushes.
See also: Milpa agriculture