Watermelon

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Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.), family Cucurbitaceae) can be both the fruit and the plant of a vine-like (scrambler and trailer) plant originally from southern Africa, and is one of the most common types of melon. This flowering plant produces a special type of fruit known by botanists as a pepo, a berry which has a thick rind (exocarp) and fleshy center (mesocarp and endocarp); pepos are derived from an inferior ovary, and are characteristic of the Cucurbitaceae. The watermelon fruit, loosely considered a type of melon (although not in the genus Cucumis), has a smooth exterior rind (green, yellow and sometimes white) and a juicy, sweet interior flesh (usually pink, but sometimes orange, yellow, red and sometimes green if not ripe). It is also commonly used to make a variety of salads, most notably fruit salad.

Contents

History

Watermelon is thought to have originated in southern Africa, where it is found growing wild, because it reaches maximum genetic diversity there, resulting in sweet, bland and bitter forms. Alphonse de Candolle, in 1882,[1] already considered the evidence sufficient to prove that watermelon was indigenous to tropical Africa.[2] 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[3] 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.[4]

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