iPhoneOgraphy – 18 Nov 2016 (Day 323/366)
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus, family Cucurbitaceae) is a vine-like (scrambler and trailer) flowering plant originally from Southern Africa. It is a large, sprawling annual plant with coarse, hairy pinnately-lobed leaves and white to yellow flowers. It is grown for its large edible fruit, also known as a watermelon, which is a special kind of berry with a hard rind and no internal division, botanically called a pepo. The fruit has a smooth hard rind – usually green with dark green stripes or yellow spots – and a sweet, juicy interior flesh – usually deep red to pink, but sometimes orange, yellow, or white – with many seeds, which can be soft and white or hard and black.
Considerable breeding effort has been put into disease-resistant varieties and into developing a “seedless” strain with only digestable white seeds. Many cultivars are available, producing mature fruit within 100 days of planting the crop. The fruit can be eaten raw, pickled or the rind cooked.
The watermelon is thought to have originated in Southern Africa, where it is found growing wild. It reaches maximum genetic diversity there, with sweet, bland and bitter forms. In the 19th century, Alphonse de Candolle considered the watermelon to be indigenous to tropocal Africa. Citrullus colocynthis is often considered to be a wild ancestor of the watermelon and is now found native in north and west Africa. However, it has been suggested on the basis of chloroplast DNA investigations that the cultivated and wild watermelon diverged independently from a common ancestor, possibly C.ecirrhosus from Namibia.
Evidence of its cultivation in the Nile Valley has been found from the second millennium BC onward. Watermelon seeds have been found at Twelfth Dynasty sites and in the tomb of PharaohTutankhamun.
In the 7th century watermelons were being cultivated in India, and by the 10th century had reached China, which is today the world’s single largest watermelon producer. Moorish invaders introduced the fruit into Europe and there is evidence of it being cultivated in Córdoba in 961 and also in Seville in 1158. It spread northwards through Southern Europe, perhaps limited in its advance by summer temperatures being insufficient for good yields. The fruit had begun appearing in European herbals by 1600, and was widely planted in Europe in the 17th century as a minor garden crop.
European colonists and slaves from Africa introduced the watermelon to the New World. Spanish settlers were growing it in Florida in 1576, and it was being grown in Massachusetts by 1629, and by 1650 was being cultivated in Peru, Brazil and Panama, as well as in many British and Dutch colonies. Around the same time, Native Americans were cultivating the crop in the Mississippi valley and Florida. Watermelons were rapidly accepted in Hawaii and other Pacific islands when they were introduced there by explorers such as Captain James Cook.