II.C.6. - Cucumbers, Melons,
focus here is on three important cucurbits cucumber, melon,
and watermelon although cucurbits of less significance
such as the citron, bur (or West India gherkin), and some lesser-known
melons are also briefly discussed. These plants, together with
all the sundry squashes and pumpkins, constitute a taxonomic group
of diverse origin and genetic composition with considerable impact
on human nutrition. The term "cucurbit" denotes all
species within the Cucurbitaceae family.
are found throughout the tropics and subtropics of Africa, southeastern
Asia, and the Americas. Some are adapted to humid conditions and
others are found in arid areas. Most are frost-intolerant so they
are grown with protection in temperate areas or to coincide with
the warm portion of the annual cycle. Cucurbits are mostly annual,
herbaceous, tendril-bearing vines.
significance of cucurbits in human affairs is illustrated by the
abundance of literature devoted to them, albeit much less than
that produced on the grains and pulses. Two full-length books
have cucurbits as the title (Whitaker and Davis 1962; Robinson
and Decker-Walters 1997), and at least four significant publications
have been derived from recent conferences on these plants (Thomas
1989; Bates, Robinson and Jeffrey 1990; Lester and Dunlap 1994;
Gómez-Guillamón et al. 1996). Moreover, a recent
reference book provides an inclusive chapter on cucurbits (Rubatzky
and Yamaguchi 1997) and an annual publication is dedicated to
their genetics (Ng 1996).
Cucurbitaceae family is well defined but taxonomically isolated
from other plant families. Two subfamilies Zanonioideae
and Cucurbitoideae are well characterized: the former by
small, striate pollen grains and the latter by having the styles
united into a single column. The food plants all fall within the
subfamily Cucurbitoideae. Further definition finds cucumber (Cucumis
sativus L.) and melon (Cucumis melo L.) to be within
the subtribe Cucumerinae, tribe Melothrieae, and watermelon (Citrullus
lanatus [Thunb.] Matsum. and Nakai.) is assigned to the tribe
Benincaseae, subtribe Benincasinae. The taxonomic sites of West
India gherkin (Cucumis anguria L.) and citron (Citrullus
lanatus var. citroides [L.H. Bailey] Mansf.) are, as
with those just listed, in the same genus. There are about 118
genera and over 800 species in the Cucurbitaceae (Jeffrey 1990a).
The melons (C. melo) are further subdivided into groups
that do not have taxonomic standing but have proved useful horticulturally
(Munger and Robinson 1991):
Cantalupensis group includes cantaloupe, muskmelon (Figure
II.C.6.1), and Persian melon. The fruit are oval or round; sutured
or smooth; mostly netted, some slightly netted or nonnetted;
and abscise from the peduncle when mature. The flesh is usually
salmon or orange colored, but may be green and is aromatic.
In the United States, the term "muskmelon" and "cantaloupe"
may be used interchangeably, but some horticultural scientists
(Maynard and Elmstrom 1991: 229) suggest that they be used to
distinguish between types of C. melo Cantalupensis group.
This group includes the previously recognized Reticulatus group.
Inodorus group consists of winter melon, casaba (Figure
II.C.6.2), crenshaw, honeydew, Juan Canary (Figure II.C.6.3),
and Santa Claus (Figure II.C.6.4). The fruit are round or irregular,
smooth or wrinkled, but not netted; nor do they abscise from
the peduncle at maturity. The flesh is mostly green or white,
occasionally orange, and not aromatic.
Flexuosus group is made up of the snake or serpent melon
and the Armenian cucumber. The fruit are quite long, thin, ribbed,
and often curled irregularly.
Conomon group comprises the oriental pickling melon. This
fruit is smooth, cylindrical, and may be green, white, or striped.
The flesh is white and can taste either sweet or bland.
Dudaim group includes mango melon, pomegranate melon, and
Queen Annes melon. The fruit are small, round to oval,
and light green, yellow, or striped. The flesh is firm and yellowish-white
Mormordica group is made up of the phoot and snap melon.
The fruit are oval or cylindrical with smooth skin that cracks
as the fruit matures.
melon, and watermelon plants share many characteristics but also
differ in important ways. As a group they are frost-sensitive
annuals with trailing, tendril-bearing vines. The plants are mostly
monoecious, the flowers are insect-pollinated, and the fruits
are variously shaped, many-seeded berries.
plants are annual and may be monoecious, andromonoecious, or gynoecious.
They have indeterminate trailing vines with angled, hairy stems
bearing triangular-ovate, acute three-lobed leaves. Determinate
types with compact plants have been developed for gardens. In
monoecious types, staminate flowers appear first and are several
times more abundant than pistillate flowers. Flowers occur at
the nodes, staminate in clusters or singly close to the plant
crown with only one flower of the cluster opening on a single
day; pistillate flowers are borne singly on the main stem and
lateral branches in monoecious types (Figure II.C.6.5) and singly
or in clusters on the main stem and lateral branches on gynoecious
Pistillate flowers are identified easily by the large inferior
ovary that is a miniature cucumber fruit. Both staminate and pistillate
flowers are large (2 to 3 centimeters [cm] in diameter) with a
yellow, showy five-parted corolla. Fruits of commercial types
and green when consumed at the immature, edible stage (Figure
II.C.6.6). The fruit surface is interrupted with tubercle-bearing
white or black spines. White spines are typical of fruit used
for fresh consumption that, if allowed to attain maturity, will
be yellow, whereas black-spined fruit is often used for processing
(pickles) and is orange at maturity.
or parthenocarpic cucumbers are another distinctive type. The
plants are gynoecious with a fruit borne at each axil (Figure
II.C.6.7). They are grown on a trellis in protected, screened
culture to prevent bees from introducing foreign pollen, which
would cause seeds to develop. Fruits are long, straight, smooth,
thin-skinned, and medium to dark-green in color. A slightly restricted
"neck" at the stem end of the fruit serves to readily
identify this unique type. Cucumber fruit destined for fresh markets
has a length/diameter ratio of about 4:1; that used for pickle
production has a ratio of about 2:5, whereas parthenocarpic fruit
have a ratio of about 6:1. Seeds are about 8 millimeters (mm)
long, oval, and white (Lower and Edwards 1986: 17381).
plants are annual, monoecious climbing vines with flowers, leaves,
tendrils, and fruit smaller than those of cucumber. Fruits, which
are spiny, yellow, oval, and about 5 cm long, are eaten fresh,
cooked, or pickled. The plant may self-seed, escape from cultivation,
and become an aggressive weed.
are mostly andromonoecious and have annual trailing vines with
nearly round stems bearing tendrils and circular to oval leaves
with shallow lobes. Staminate flowers are borne in axillary clusters
on the main stem, and perfect flowers are borne at the first node
of lateral branches. Fruits vary in size, shape, rind characteristics,
and flesh color depending on variety. Fruit quality is related
to external appearance, thick, well-colored interior flesh with
high (>10 percent) soluble solids, and a pleasant aroma and
taste (Maynard and Elmstrom 1991: 229). It is a common misconception
that poor-quality melon fruit results from cross-pollination with
cucumber because these species are incompatible. Rather, the poor-quality
melon fruit sometimes encountered is due to unfavorable weather
or growing conditions that restrict photosynthetic activity and,
thereby, sugar content of the fruit. Seeds are cream-colored,
oval, and on average 10 mm long.
plants are monoecious, annual, and have trailing thin and angular
vines that bear pinnatifide leaves. Flowers are solitary in leaf
axils. Staminate flowers appear first and greatly outnumber pistillate
flowers. The flowers are pollinated mostly by honeybees. Fruit
may range in size from about 1 kilogram (kg) to as much as 100
kg, but ordinary cultivated types are 3 to 13 kg. Shape varies
from round to oval to elongated. Coloration of the rind may be
light green, often termed gray, to very dark green, appearing
to be almost black (Figure II.C.6.8). In addition, the rind may
have stripes of various designs that are typical of a variety
or type; thus the terms "Jubilee-type stripe" or "Allsweet-type
stripe" are used to identify various patterns. Seed color
and size is variable. The tendency in varietal development is
to strive for seeds that are small (but vigorous enough for germination
under unfavorable conditions) and that are dark-colored rather
than white the latter are associated with immaturity. Flesh
may be white, green, yellow, orange, pink, or red. Consumers in
developed countries demand red- or deep pinkfleshed watermelons,
although yellow-fleshed ones are grown in home gardens and, to
a limited extent, commercially (Mohr 1986).
watermelon. Each fruit of standard-seeded watermelon varieties
may contain as many as 1,000 seeds (Figure II.C.6.9) and their
presence throughout the flesh makes removal difficult.
seedless (triploid) watermelons have been grown for over 40 years
in the United States. However, only recently have improved varieties,
aggressive marketing, and increased consumer demand created a
rapidly expanding market for them. The seedless condition is actually
sterility resulting from a cross between two plants of incompatible
chromosome complements. The normal chromosome number in most living
organisms is referred to as 2n. Seedless watermelons are
produced on highly sterile triploid (3n) plants, which
result from crossing a normal diploid (2n) plant with a
tetraploid (4n). The tetraploid is used as the female or
seed parent and the diploid is the male or pollen parent. Since
the tetraploid seed parent produces only 5 to 10 percent as many
seeds as a normal diploid plant, seed cost is 10 to 100 times
more than that of standard, open-pollinated varieties and 5 to
10 times that of hybrid diploid watermelon varieties.
lines, usually developed by treating diploid plants with a chemical
called colchicine, normally have a light, medium, or dark-green
rind without stripes. By contrast, the diploid pollen parent almost
always has a fruit with a striped rind. The resulting hybrid triploid
seedless melon will inherit the striped pattern, though growers
may occasionally find a nonstriped fruit in fields of striped
seedless watermelons, the result of accidental self-pollination
of the tetraploid seed parent during triploid seed production.
The amount of tetraploid contamination depends upon the methods
and care employed in triploid seed production. Sterile triploid
plants normally do not produce viable seed. However, small, white
rudimentary seeds or seed coats, which are eaten along with the
fruits as in cucumber, develop within the fruit. The number and
size of these rudimentary seeds vary with the variety. An occasional
dark, hard, viable seed is found in triploid melons. Seedless
watermelons can be grown successfully in areas where conventional
seeded varieties are produced, although they require some very
unique cultural practices for successful production (Maynard 1996:
12). With proper care, such watermelons have a longer shelf
life than seeded counterparts. This may be due to the fact that
flesh breakdown occurs in the vicinity of seeds, which are absent
in seedless melons.
citron plants resemble those of watermelon except that their leaves
are broader and less pinnate. The fruits also resemble watermelon
externally, but the rind is quite hard and the flesh is white
to light green and may be quite bitter. Because fruit rinds are
used to make pickles and are also candied, the citron is also
called a "preserving melon." Plants escaped from cultivation
may prove to be aggressive weeds in crop fields.
of Production and Consumption
little research literature in cultural anthropology, archaeology,
or social history focuses specifically on the species of cultivated
cucurbits under consideration here. Indeed, some classic as well
as recent important texts on the origins of agriculture make no
mention of them (Reed 1977; Smith 1995). There are at least four
reasons for this lacuna. First, these cultigens are not part of
the complex carbohydrate "cores" of the diets found
in centers of state formation (see Mintz 1996) and thus have not
received the same attention as other staple food crops. Second,
the primary centers of domestication for both melon and watermelon
are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the exact timing, locations,
and processes of domestication are still poorly understood (see
Cowan and Watson 1992). Third, some researchers suggest that "cucurbits
are usually poorly preserved among archaeological remains. The
features considered most indicative of domestication are characteristics
of the peduncle (stem), which is rarely preserved. The earliest
remains are seed specimens, which often occur in extremely low
frequencies because they are likely to have been consumed"
(McClung de Tapia 1992: 153). Finally, the ethnographic record
contains limited data on the production and consumption of these
crops (with a few notable exceptions), reflecting their secondary
significance both materially and symbolically in most human societies.
are generally believed to have originated in India, and archaeological
and linguistic evidence suggests that they have been cultivated
throughout western Asia for at least 3,000 years (Hedrick 1919:
208; Whitaker and Davis 1962: 23; Sauer 1993: 45; Robinson
and Decker-Walters 1997: 62). From India, the cucumber spread
to Greece and Italy where the crop was significant in the
Roman Empire and slightly later to China and southern Russia.
In classical Rome, Pliny reported greenhouse production of cucumbers
by the first century, and the Emperor Tiberius was said to have
had them at his table throughout the year (Sauer 1993: 46). Cucumbers
probably were diffused into the rest of Europe by the Romans and
later throughout the New World via colonialism and indigenous
trade networks. The earliest records of their cultivation appear
in France by the ninth century, Great Britain by the fourteenth
century, the Caribbean at the end of the fifteenth century, and
North America by the middle of the sixteenth century (Hedrick
encounters between Europeans and Native Americans resulted in
the rapid diffusion of cucumbers throughout North America. The
Spanish began growing them in Hispaniola by 1494, and less than
a century later European explorers were noting that a wide range
of Native American peoples from Montreal to New York, Virginia,
and Florida were cultivating them, along with a large variety
of other crops including maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, and gourds.
By the seventeenth century, Native American groups on the Great
Plains were also cultivating cucumbers this in a region
where the Spanish had been particularly significant in the diffusion
of horses and guns, as well as Old World cultigens such as watermelons
and cucumbers (see Wolf 1982).
other cucurbits, cucumbers have a wide range of consumption uses
cross-culturally. They are generally eaten fresh or pickled and
are particularly important in the diets of people living in Russia
and East, South, and Southeast Asia, where they may also be served
as a fresh or cooked vegetable. In India, the fruits are used
in the preparation of chutney and curries. Cucumber seeds, young
leaves, and cooked stems are also consumed in some parts of Asia.
addition, since at least the nineteenth century, cucumbers have
been used in the production of a large variety of cosmetics, including
fragrances, body lotions, shampoos, and soaps (Robinson and Decker-Walters
1997: 63; Rubatzky and Yamaguchi 1997: 585).
is generally thought to have originated in western Africa (Zeven
and Zhukovsky 1975: 30; Bailey 1976: 342; Purseglove 1976: 294;
Whitaker and Bemis 1976: 67), with China or India as possible
secondary centers of diversity. Wild melons growing in natural
habitats have been reported in desert and savanna zones of Africa,
Arabia, southwestern Asia, and Australia. As Jonathan Sauer notes,
it is unclear where melon was domesticated and "it is conceivable
that it was independently domesticated from different wild populations
in Africa and southwestern Asia" (Sauer 1993: 44). Melon
was an important food crop in ancient China, where archaeological
data suggest that it has been cultivated for over 5,000 years
(Robinson and Decker-Walters 1997: 23). Archaeological evidence
also suggests that melon was cultivated in Iran some 5,000 years
ago and in Greece and Egypt about 4,000 years ago (Zohary and
Hopf 1988). Given the fruits probable African origin, this
evidence points to a very early date for the first domestication
of melon. Tropical forest swidden systems in Africa typically
have yams or manioc as dominant staple food crops with melons
among the numerous and multiple secondary crops (Harris 1976:
with cucumbers, melons were cultivated in the Roman Empire and
diffused throughout Europe by the Middle Ages where the "variety
and quality of melon cultivars were evidently greatly increased
by selection in Medieval gardens" (Sauer 1993: 44). As with
cucumbers and watermelons, melons were introduced to the New World
by Spanish colonial settlers in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth
centuries and subsequently spread very rapidly among Native American
horticultural groups. Later during the eighteenth century they
reached the Pacific Islanders via British explorers.
Norrman and Jon Haarberg (1980) explore the semiotic role of cucurbits
in Western literature and culture and extend this analysis to
selected non-Western cultural contexts. Focusing on melons, watermelons,
and cucumbers (as well as other domesticated cucurbits), these
authors note that cucurbits generally have deep, profound, and
complex multivocal symbolic associations with sex and sexuality,
fertility, vitality, moisture, abundance, opulence, luxury, gluttony,
creative power, rapid growth, and sudden death. More specifically,
they note that melons are highly associated with status in colder
climate European societies because historically they were "seasonal,
expensive and scarce, with all the symbolic development that a
commodity with such characteristics usually goes through"
(Norrman and Haarberg 1980: 16). Cucurbits also appear frequently
in non-Western cosmologies, for example, "in Burmese and
Laotian mythology, the creation of man started from a cucurbit"
(Norrman and Haarberg 1980: 26). As with other key symbols marked
by binary oppositions, symbolic meanings attached to cucurbits
can also be employed to convey a broad variety of negative symbolic
associations along race, class, and gender lines.
has a large number of different cultivars and a range of cross-cultural
consumption uses parallel to the other species of cucurbits discussed
in this chapter. Fruits are typically eaten uncooked, although
they may also be cooked or pickled in some Asian cuisines. The
seeds of some cultivars are roasted and consumed in parts of India.
Dried and ground melon seeds are used as food in some African
societies. Melon fruits, roots, leaves, and seeds play important
roles in the treatment of a wide range of health problems in Chinese
traditional medicine (Robinson and Decker-Walters 1997: 6970).
which were originally domesticated in central and southern Africa
(Whitaker and Davis 1962: 2; Robinson and Decker-Walters 1997:
85), are an important part of the "most widespread and characteristic
African agricultural complex adapted to savanna zones" in
that they are not only a food plant but also a vital source of
water in arid regions (Harlan, de Wet, and Stemler 1976; Harlan
1992: 64). Indeed, V. R. Rubatzky and M. Yamaguchi (1997: 603)
refer to watermelons as "botanical canteens." In a number
of traditional African cuisines, the seeds (rich in edible oils
and protein) and flesh are used in cooking. Watermelon emerged
as an important cultigen in northern Africa and southwestern Asia
prior to 6,000 years ago (Robinson and Decker-Walters 1997: 24).
Archaeological data suggest that they were cultivated in ancient
Egypt more than 5,000 years ago, where representations of watermelons
appeared on wall paintings and watermelon seeds and leaves were
deposited in Egyptian tombs (Ficklen 1984: 8).
their African origins, watermelons spread via trade routes throughout
much of the world, reaching India by 800 and China by 1100. In
both of these countries, as in Africa, the seeds are eaten and
crushed for their edible oils. Watermelons became widely distributed
along Mediterranean trade routes and were introduced into southern
Europe by the Moorish conquerors of Spain, who left evidence of
watermelon cultivation at Cordoba in 961 and Seville in 1158 (Watson
1983). Sauer notes that "watermelons spread slowly into other
parts of Europe, perhaps largely because the summers are not generally
hot enough for good yields. However, they began appearing in European
herbals before 1600, and by 1625, the species was widely planted
in Europe as a minor garden crop" (Sauer 1993: 42). Their
first recorded appearance in Great Britain dates to 1597.
reached the New World with European colonists and African slaves.
Spanish settlers were producing watermelons in Florida by 1576,
and by 1650 they were common in Panama, Peru, and Brazil, as well
as in British and Dutch colonies throughout the New World (Sauer
1993: 43). The first recorded cultivation in British colonial
North America dates to 1629 in Massachusetts (Hedrick 1919: 172).
cucumbers and melons, watermelons spread very rapidly among Native
American groups. Prior to the beginning of the seventeenth century,
they were being grown by tribes in the Ocmulgee region of Georgia,
the Conchos nation of the Rio Grande valley, the Zuni and other
Pueblo peoples of the Southwest, as well as by the Huron of eastern
Canada and groups from the Great Lakes region (Blake 1981). By
the mid-seventeenth century, Native Americans were cultivating
them in Florida and the Mississippi valley, and in the eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries the western Apache of east-central
and southeastern Arizona were producing maize and European-introduced
crops including watermelons as they combined small-scale horticulture
with hunting and gathering in a low rainfall environment (Minnis
1992: 1301). This fact is ethnographically significant because
other transitional foragingfarming groups, such as the San
people of the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, have parallel
subsistence practices involving watermelons. Watermelons and melons
were also rapidly adopted by Pacific Islanders in Hawaii and elsewhere
as soon as the seeds were introduced by Captain James Cook (1778)
and other European explorers (Neal 1965).
the cultural history of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was
an enthusiastic grower of watermelons at his Monticello estate,
Henry David Thoreau proudly grew large and juicy watermelons in
Concord, Massachusetts, and Mark Twain wrote in Puddnhead
Wilson: "The true southern watermelon is a boon apart
and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this
worlds luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits
of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels
eat." Ellen Ficklen has documented the important role of
watermelons in American popular culture in numerous areas including
folk art, literature, advertising and merchandising, and the large
number of annual summer watermelon festivals throughout the country
with "parades, watermelon-eating contests, seed spitting
contests, watermelon queens, sports events, and plenty of food
and music" (1984: 25).
and exhibiting large watermelons is an active pastime in some
rural areas of the southern United States. Closely guarded family
"secrets" for producing large watermelons and seeds
from previous large fruit are carefully maintained. According
to The Guinness Book of Records, the largest recorded watermelon
in the United States was grown by B. Carson of Arrington, Tennessee,
in 1990 and weighed a phenomenal 119 kg (Young 1997: 413).
slaves also widely dispersed watermelon seeds in eastern North
America, the circum-Caribbean, and Brazil. In the southern United
States where soil and climate conditions were optimal for
watermelon cultivation this crop ultimately became stereotypically,
and often negatively, associated with rural African-Americans
(see Norrman and Haarberg 1980: 6770). Watermelons have
subsequently figured as key symbols in the iconography of racism
in the United States as seen during African-American protest marches
in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, in 1989, where marchers were greeted
by Italian-American community residents shouting racial slurs
and holding up watermelons.
the ethnographic record of cultural anthropology, watermelons
have perhaps figured most extensively in discussions of foragers
and agro-pastoralists of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.
As early as the 1850s, explorer David Livingstone described vast
tracts of watermelons growing in the region. The anthropologist
Richard Lee notes that watermelons, in domestic, wild, and feral
varieties, constitute one of the most widespread and abundant
plant species growing in the central Kalahari Desert. They are
easily collected by foraging peoples and "the whole melon
is brought back to camp and may be cut into slices for distribution.
The melon itself may be halved and used as a cup, while the pulp
is pulverized with the blunt end of a digging stick. The seeds
may be roasted and eaten as well" (Lee 1979: 488).
are among the most popular cultigens for forager-farmers in the
Kalahari for the following reasons: "First, they provide
a source of water; second, they are relatively drought-resistant,
especially when compared to seed crops like sorghum and maize;
and third, dried melons are an article of food for both humans
and livestock and, after they have been cut into strips and hung
on thorn trees to dry, they are easy to store" (Hitchcock
and Ebert 1984: 343).
Cashdan emphasizes the point that "normally, when one thinks
of agriculture one thinks of food resources, but . . .
where the dominant factor governing mobility is the availability
of moisture, it is appropriate that agriculture should be used
to produce a storable form of moisture" (Cashdan 1984: 316).
This cultivated water supply allows some Kalahari Desert groups
to remain sedentary during both rainy and dry seasons, and watermelons
are often stored in large quantities by these societies (Cashdan
collection of watermelons by foragers and their incipient domestication
by such groups yields insights into probable scenarios for domestication.
R. W. Robinson and D. S. Decker-Walters suggest a general process
for cucurbits that has a plausible fit with the history and ethnography
of watermelons in the Kalahari Desert:
plant gatherers were probably attracted to some of these products,
particularly the relatively large, long-keeping and sometime
showy fruits. After fruits were taken back to camp, seeds that
were purposely discarded, accidently dropped or partially digested
found new life on rubbish heaps, settlement edges or other disturbed
areas within the camp. Eventually, recognition of the value
of the resident cucurbits led to their tolerance, horticultural
care and further exploitation. Finally seeds . . .
were carried by and exchanged among migrating bands of these
incipient cultivators, gradually turning the earliest cultivated
cucurbits into domesticated crops. (Robinson and Decker-Walters
a process of domestication is somewhat different from those analyzed
for cereal grains, where early transitional forager-farmers exploited
densely concentrated stands of the wild ancestors of later domesticated
uses of watermelon are quite varied. They are primarily consumed
fresh for their sweet and juicy fruits and are often eaten as
desserts. In some African cuisines, however, they are served as
a cooked vegetable. The rind may be consumed in pickled or candied
form. In parts of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere watermelon
juice is fermented into an alcoholic beverage. Roasted seeds of
this crop are eaten throughout Asia and the Middle East, and watermelon
seeds are ground into flour and baked as bread in some parts of
India. In addition, watermelons are also sometimes used as feed
for livestock (Robinson and Decker-Walters 1997: 247, 85;
Rubatzky and Yamaguchi 1997: 603).
cucumber varieties used in the United States were selections of
those originally brought from Europe. American-originated varieties
such as Arlington White Spine, Boston Pickling,
and Chicago Pickling were developed in the late nineteenth
century. Cucumber is prone to a large number of potentially devastating
diseases, and its rapid trailing growth makes chemical control
of foliar and fruit diseases quite difficult. As a result, interest
in the development of genetic disease tolerance has long been
the focus of plant breeding efforts and has met with great success:
Tolerance to at least nine diseases has been incorporated into
a single genotype. The first monoecious hybrid, Burpee Hybrid,
was made available in 1945. Although seed costs were higher, multiple
advantages of hybrids were soon recognized. Commercial companies
built large research staffs to develop hybrids that provided proprietary
exclusivity in those species where appropriate. Gynoecious hybrids
made their appearance in 1962 when Spartan Dawn was
introduced. This all-female characteristic has since been exploited
in both pickling and fresh-market types (Wehner and Robinson 1991:
1806 catalog lists 13 distinct melon sorts derived from European
sources (Tapley, Enzie, and Van Eseltine 1937: 60). Management
of plant diseases in melon presents the same difficulties as with
cucumbers. Accordingly, incorporation of disease tolerance into
commercial types has been a major objective of plant breeders.
One type, PMR 45, developed by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture and the University of California in 1937, represented
an enormous contribution because it provided resistance to powdery
mildew (Erisiphe cichoracearum), which was the most devastating
disease of melons in the arid western United States. This variety
and its descendants dominated the U.S. market for about 40 years
(Whitaker and Davis 1962: 579). Hybrids, which now predominate
in the Cantalupensis group, began to appear in the mid-1950s with
the introduction of Burpee Hybrid, Harper Hybrid,
and others (Minges 1972: 69, 71).
to fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. niveum)
and anthracnose (Colletotrichum orbiculare), which was
a prime objective of watermelon breeding programs, was achieved
with the development of three varieties that dominated commercial
production for almost four decades. Charleston Gray
was developed by C. F. Andrus of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
in 1954, Crimson Sweet by C. V. Hall of Kansas State
University in 1964, and Jubilee by J. M. Crall at
the University of Florida in 1963 (Figure II.C.6.10). These varieties
are no longer used to any extent, having been replaced by hybrids
of the Allsweet and blocky Crimson Sweet types because of superior
quality, high yields, and an attractive rind pattern. In Japan
and other parts of Asia, watermelon varieties in use are susceptible
to fusarium wilt, so they are grafted (Figure II.C.6.11) onto
resistant root stocks (Lee 1994). In addition to diploid hybrids,
triploid (seedless) hybrids are expected to dominate the watermelon
market in the near future.
and Nutritional Composition
As Table II.C.6.1 indicates, well over
half of world cucumber and gherkin production occurs in Asia (the
term "gherkin" is used here to denote small cucumber,
rather than bur or
West India gherkin). Though significant production also occurs
in Europe and in North and Central America, China accounts for
about 40 percent of world production. Other Asian countries with
high cucumber production are Iran, Turkey,
Japan, Uzbekistan, and Iraq. Only the United States, Ukraine,
the Netherlands, and Poland are world
leaders outside of Asia in cucumber production. Yields in the
leading producing countries range
from 8.6 tons per hectare (ha) in Iraq to 500 tons/ha in the Netherlands.
The extraordinary yields in
the Netherlands are because of protected culture
of parthenocarpic types (United Nations 1996: 1345).
As with cucumber, Asia produces more than half of the worlds
melon crop (Table II.C.6.2). Whereas Europe, North and Central
America, and Africa are important world production centers, China
produces about 25 percent of the worlds crop. Turkey and
Iran are also leading melon-producing countries. Yields in the
leading countries range from 13.0 tons/ha in Mexico to 26.9 tons/ha
in China (United Nations 1996: 1223). In Japan, melons are
usually grown in greenhouses. The very best ones are sold to be
used as special gifts. Prices shown (Figure II.C.6.12) are roughly
U.S. $50, $60, and $70 each.
Asia produces about 60 percent of the worlds watermelons
with major production in China (23 percent), Turkey (12 percent),
Iran (9 percent), Korea Republic (3 percent), Georgia (3 percent),
Uzbekistan (2 percent), and Japan (2 percent) (Table II.C.6.3).
Yields in the major producing countries range from 11.3 tons/ha
in Uzbekistan to 30.4 tons/ha in Japan (Figure II.C.6.13), where
much of the production is in protected culture (United Nations
and Nutritional Composition
as previously discussed in this chapter, are an important part
of the diet in the United States (Table II.C.6.4), where the annual
consumption of watermelon, melon, and cucumber amounts to just
over 17 kg per person (USDA 1996). Cucurbit fruits are high in
moisture and low in fat, which makes them popular with consumers
interested in healthy diets (Table II.C.6.5). Those with orange
flesh like muskmelon and winter squash are excellent sources of
vitamin A. Orange-fleshed cucumbers have been developed recently
from crosses between United States pickling cucumber varieties
and the orange-fruited "Xishuangbanna" cucumber from
the Peoples Republic of China. The provitamin A carotene
content of these cucumbers is equivalent to other orange-fleshed
cucurbits (Simon and Navazio 1997). Moderate amounts of essential
inorganic elements and other vitamins are provided by the cucurbit
fruit. Aside from the low fat con-
tent and high vitamin A content of some cucurbit fruits, their
principal value in the diet of people living in developed countries
is in their unique colors, shapes, flavors, and adaptability to
internal quality of watermelon fruit is a function of flesh color
and texture, freedom from defects, sweetness, and optimum maturity.
Unfortunately, these criteria cannot, as a rule, be assessed without
cutting the melon. So many watermelons of inferior or marginal
quality have been marketed that consumers have increasingly lost
confidence in the product. The current supermarket practice of
preparing cut and sectioned watermelon provides at least partial
assurance of quality to the purchaser, but no indication of sweetness.
In Japan, the quality of whole watermelon fruit is assessed by
nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) before marketing. Soluble solids
and flesh integrity can be determined nondestructively in seconds
(Figure II.C.6.14). As mentioned, because of their exceptional
quality, such watermelons can be sold locally for the equivalent
of about U.S. $50$70 (Figure II.C.6.15).
contrast to the composition of the pulp, watermelon seeds, which
are used for food in various parts of the world, are low in moisture
and high in carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Varieties with very
large seeds have been developed especially for use as food in
China, where more than 200,000 tons are produced annually on 140,000
ha land (Zhang 1996).
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