The crop of the day: Melons (Cucumis melo) and watermelons ( Citrullus lanatus)

(from Corel PhotoCD Series 322000)

© Paul Gepts 2002


Sauer JD (1993) Citrullus - Watermelon and relatives. In: Historical geography of crop plants. CRC, Boca Raton, FL: pp. 42-43
Sauer JD (1993) Cucumis - Muskmelons, cucumber. In: Historical geography of crop plants. CRC, Boca Raton, FL: pp. 42-43
Whitaker TW, Bemis WP (1976) Cucurbits. In: Simmonds NW (ed) Evolution of crop plants. Longman, London: pp. 64-69.

Additional sources of information

Melons seeds , Ohio State University
Melon , Center for New Crops, Purdue University
Heirloom varieties of melo n , Native Seeds/Search
Melon varieties
Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality , UC Davis
Melons at
Cucumbers at University of Georgia
Melon and cucumber names at the University of Melbourne
Images of Cucurbitaceae at Texas A&M

Watermelon: Botany

  • Citrullus sp.
    • Old World genus with 3 species
    • C. colocynthus: N. Africa, Mediterranean islands, SWAsia, Australia; grown commercially as a source of purgative in medecine

  • Citrullus lanatus:
    • wild populations in the desert of southern Africa (Kalahari Bushmen) --> long, hot, relatively dry summers
    • 2 types of fruits:
      • bitter: cucurbitacin; local reproduction
      • sweet: long-range reproduction by antelopes (and humans)
    • selection:
      • fruit size, shape, flesh color, rind color
      • seed color

Watermelon: History & Utilization

  • Prehistory and History:
    • 2000 BC Nile valley
    • AD 1000: Spain: "sandía"
    • AD 1600: New World
      • Spanish and Portuguese colonies
      • North American Indians: fast dispersal
    • AD 1800: Hawaii
  • Utilization
    • fruit (fresh or cooked): 92% water - 8% sugar
    • seed: crushed, roasted; rich in oils and proteins
  • Selection: 
    • larger fruits
    • recently, seedless

Seedless watermelon

Seedless watermelon, James M. Stephens, University of Florida

Melons: Botany

  • Cucumis sp.: 30 species in Old World; C. sativus : cucumber, domesticated in India
  • C. melo:
    • wild populations reported from desert and savana regions of Africa, Arabia, S.W. Asia, and Australia
    • distinction between wild and domesticated forms is hazy; single biological species
    • possibility of multiple domestications: Africa, S.W. Asia

Melons: History and Nutrition

  • Archaeology:
    • 3,000 BC: Persia
    • 2,000 BC: Greece, Egypt
  • History:
    • Romans: Pliny (1st century AD): cantaloupe
    • Medieval Spain: Introduction of improved types by Arabs
    • Renaissance Europe: Herbals: cantaloups, casabas; various shapes, sizes, rind patterns, flesh colors
    • New World: immediate introduction after 1492; dispersal paralleles that of watermelon
  • Modern varieties:
    • bred for long distance shipping (tough rinds)
    • improved flesh color and texture
    • increased soluble solids
    • multiple disease resistance
    • main types or varieties: persian (imported by Armenians),  casaba (Crenshaw, 1929), cantaloup, honeydew (White Antibes, 1911)
  • Nutrition:
    • good source of K, vit. C, and (for orange-fleshed varieties) of ß-carotene (pro-vit. A)

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