Scientific Name: Citrullus Vulgaris
Biological Background: The fruit of an annual vine belonging to the squash and melon family. Watermelon originated in Africa and has been cultivated since ancient times in the Mediterranean region, Egypt and India.
Nutritional Information: One slice of watermelon (480 g) contains 152 calories, 3 g protein, 34.6 g carbohydrates, 2.4 g fiber, 560 mg potassium, 176 mg vitamin A (RE), 47 mg vitamin C, 0.3 mg thiamin, 0.1 mg riboflavin, and 0.96 mg niacin.
Watermelon is thought to have originated in southern Africa, where it is found growing wild, because it reaches maximum genetic diversity resulting in sweet, bland and bitter forms there. Alphonse de Candolle, in 1882, already considered the evidence sufficient to prove that watermelon was indigenous to tropical Africa. Though Citrullus colocynthis is often considered to be a wild ancestor of watermelon, and is now found native in north and west Africa, Fenny Dane and Jiarong Liu, suggest on the basis of chloroplast DNA investigations, that the cultivated and wild watermelon appear to have diverged independently from a common ancestor, possibly C. ecirrhosus from Namibia.
It is not known when the plant was first cultivated, but Zohary and Hopf note evidence of its cultivation in the Nile Valley from at least as early as the second millennium BC. Although watermelon is not depicted in any Egyptian hieroglyphic text nor does any ancient writer mention it, finds of the characteristically large seed are reported in Twelfth dynasty sites; numerous watermelon seeds were recovered from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
By the 10th century AD, watermelons were being cultivated in China, which is today the world’s single largest watermelon producer. By the 13th century, Moorish invaders had introduced the fruit to Europe; and, according to John Mariani’s The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, “watermelon” made its first appearance in an English dictionary in 1615.
In Vietnam, legend holds that watermelon was discovered in Vietnam long before it reached China, in the era of the Hùng Kings. According to legend, watermelon was discovered by Prince Mai An Tiêm, an adopted son of the 11th Hùng King. When he was exiled unjustly to an island, he was told that if he could survive for six months, he would be allowed to return. When he prayed for guidance, a bird flew past and dropped a seed. He cultivated the seed and called its fruit “dưa tây” or western melon, because the birds who ate it flew from the west. When the Chinese took over Vietnam in about 110 BC, they called the melons “dưa hảo” (good melon) or “dưa hấu”, “dưa Tây”, “dưa hảo”, “dưa hấu”—all words for “watermelon”. An Tiêm’s island is now a peninsula in the suburban district of Nga
Watermelon contains about 6% sugar and 92% water by weight. As with many other fruits, it is a source of vitamin C.
Notable is the inner rind or the watermelon which is usually a light green or white color. This area is edible and contains many hidden nutrients that most people avoid eating due to its void taste.
The amino acid citrulline was first extracted from watermelon and analysed. Watermelons contain a significant amount of citrulline and after consumption of several kg an elevated concentration is measured in the blood plasma; this could be mistaken for citrullinaemia or other urea cycle disorder.
Watermelon rinds are also edible, and sometimes used as a vegetable. In China, they are stir-fried, stewed, or more often pickled. When stir-fried, the de-skinned and de-fruited rind is cooked with olive oil, garlic, chili peppers, scallions, sugar and rum. Pickled watermelon rind is also commonly consumed in the Southern US, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. In the Balkans, especially Serbia, watermelon slatko is also popular. Watermelon juice can also be made into wine.
Watermelon is also mildly diuretic.
Watermelons contain large amounts of beta carotene.
Watermelon with red flesh is a significant source of lycopene.
A traditional food plant in Africa, this fruit has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.
- Carolina Cross: This variety of watermelon produced the current world record watermelon weighing 262 pounds (119 kg). It has green skin, red flesh and commonly produces fruit between 65 and 150 pounds (29 and 68 kg). It takes about 90 days from planting to harvest.
- Yellow Crimson Watermelon: variety of watermelon that has a yellow colored flesh. This particular type of watermelon has been described as “sweeter” and more “honey” flavored than the more popular red flesh watermelon.
- Orangeglo: This variety has a very sweet orange pulp, and is a large oblong fruit weighing 9–14 kg (20-30 pounds). It has a light green rind with jagged dark green stripes. It takes about 90–100 days from planting to harvest.
- The Moon and Stars variety of watermelon has been around since 1926. The rind is purple/black and has many small yellow circles (stars) and one or two large yellow circles (moon). The melon weighs 9–23 kg (20-50 pounds).The flesh is pink or red and has brown seeds. The foliage is also spotted. The time from planting to harvest is about 90 days.
- Cream of Saskatchewan: This variety consists of small round fruits, around 25 cm (10 inches) in diameter. It has a quite thin, light green with dark green striped rind, with sweet white flesh and black seeds. It can grow well in cool climates. It was originally brought to Saskatchewan, Canada by Russian immigrants. These melons take 80–85 days from planting to harvest.
- Melitopolski: This variety has small round fruits roughly 28–30 cm (11-12 inches) in diameter. It is an early ripening variety that originated from the Volga River region of Russia, an area known for cultivation of watermelons. The Melitopolski watermelons are seen piled high by vendors in Moscow in summer. This variety takes around 95 days from planting to harvest.
- Densuke Watermelon: This variety has round fruit up to 25 lb (11 kg). The rind is black with no stripes or spots. It is only grown on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, where up to 10 000 watermelons are produced every year. In June 2008, one of the first harvested watermelons was sold at an auction for 650 000 yen (6300 USD), making the most expensive watermelon ever sold. The average selling price is generally around 25 000 yen (250 USD).
For commercial plantings, one beehive per acre (over 9,000 m² per hive) is the minimum recommendation by the US Department of Agriculture for pollination of conventional, seeded varieties. Because seedless hybrids have sterile pollen; pollinizer rows of varieties with viable pollen must also be planted.
Since the supply of viable pollen is reduced and pollination is much more critical in producing the seedless variety, the recommended number of hives per acre, or pollinator density, increases to three hives per acre (1,300 m² per hive).
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