Cross pollination happens when two different types of squash are planted too close to each other. As a result, they exchange pollen and pistils for creating a new type of squash. Though it may sound cool, there are things people should be wary of when eating cross-pollinated squash.
When consumed, squash can cause something known as a toxic syndrome, which can make you feel very ill. What’s worse, the toxic syndrome is usually associated with severe side effects, including abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Seasoned gardeners know to keep different kinds of squash far enough apart. However, newer gardeners often don’t know about the toxic syndrome. Instead, they’re elated when they see anything grow in their garden and are excited to eat the fruits of their labor. If you eat cross-pollinated squash, however, you can get seriously sick.
Here’s what you need to know about cross-pollinated squash and toxic syndrome to help keep you safe and avoid falling ill.
Table of Contents
What Is Toxic Syndrome?
Squash and other plants in their family produce cucurbitacin; a toxin meant to ward off insects and other predators. When kept in the same family line, squash plants naturally make just the right amount of cucurbitacin.
Things go a little wily in cross-pollinated squash, and the new plant makes more toxins than it should. When eaten in small amounts, the toxin poses no threat to humans. However, in cross-pollinated plants, there’s enough cucurbitacin to make you sick.
How to Know If Squash Is Cross Pollinated?
How can you tell if the squash you’re eating is the result of cross pollination? It’s a good question, especially since, from the outside, it will look like a beautiful, normal squash.
When cooked, however, spices and seasoning can mask the taste. Unfortunately, it takes a few bites before toxic syndrome can set in.
Toxic Syndrome Symptoms
Cucurbitacin poisoning can be severe. You may need to go to the hospital for treatment depending on how much you eat and your reaction. Here are some of the main symptoms of toxic squash syndrome.
- Stomach Pain
As you can see, most of the symptoms are related to your body’s rejection of the squash. It’s trying to get it out as quickly and forcefully as possible. Vomiting will provide some relief, but if symptoms persist, it’s easy for patients to lose a lot of fluids and become dehydrated.
Replacing the fluids fast enough can be challenging, which is one of the main reasons people go to the hospital for treatment.
Some people with toxic syndrome find that they lose a lot of hair in the days or even weeks after the poisoning.
Cucurbit Poisoning vs. Normal Food Poisoning
Toxic syndrome feels a lot like regular food poisoning. For some people, the toxic syndrome is so strange because the culprit came from their organic garden. The squash looked perfectly fine, though it tasted a bit different, but nothing too bad.
Typically, your symptoms will subside in a matter of days once all the toxins are through your system.
If you’ve ever lived through a nasty bout of food poisoning, you know what to expect if you eat a cross-pollinated squash.
It’s typically a rough few days before relief arrives and you start to feel better. So, keep drinking water and try your best to rest.
Avoiding Cross Pollination
As stated above, cross pollination occurs when two types of squash are too close to each other in the garden. However, it doesn’t always have to be two types of garden squash you plan to eat.
Some gardeners make the mistake of planting decorative pumpkins next to their zucchini. If they cross-pollinate, though, you’ll have toxic squash in your garden.
So don’t let the excitement about growth in the garden get in the way of knowing what you’re eating and whether it’s safe.
Another challenge in preventing cross pollination is that insects pollinate squash plants. Bees and other bugs flying around your garden collect the pollen and fertilize the pistils to start the growth process.
So, in reality, cross pollination can occur anywhere in your garden. However, the farther you have your categories of squash apart from each other, the lower the chances are that a bee or any other insect will pollinate different plants.
Here are some ways to reduce the odds of cross pollination:
Keep your plants away from each other. Some people recommend separating them by a significant distance, but this isn’t realistic for everyone. If you’re worried, you should only plant one type of squash at a time.
If you can construct barriers between your squash varieties, it will make it harder for bugs to get between the plants. For example, use trees or buildings between them to slow pollinators when they are on your grounds.
Another option is to build your garden under cages or nets that protect them from pollinators. Then, of course, you’ll have to pollinate the plants by hand, but you won’t have to worry about the toxic syndrome.
These are just a few ways to lower the odds of the toxic syndrome. As you become more experienced with gardening, you’ll know what to look for and how to keep your squash better separated to avoid any issues.
Chances of Poisoning Are Very Low
Don’t get too worked up about cucurbitacin poisoning. It’s relatively rare, and if you take basic precautions, you significantly reduce your risks. Don’t eat any squash that doesn’t look like you think it should, and if something tastes off, don’t keep eating it.
It’s always wise to take a tiny nibble of your squash after washing it to ensure it’s not too bitter. If it tastes normal, then it should be fine to cut and cook! Enjoy what comes from your garden and keep harvesting squash for delicious recipes for as long as you can!