KNOW YOUR PLANTS – MELONS

Come summer and the pavements are crowded with vendors selling watermelon, muskmelon and cucumber. Wedges of fruit with or without seasoning are very popular with people trying to quench their thirst. The attraction for these fruits is their high water content. More than 90% of their flesh is water. If they are crushed, very little pulp remains, most of the fruit being converted to juice. Both the juice and the flesh are consumed in large quantities in summer. When the summer heat is just beginning to make itself felt, it is time for the lorries to unload large numbers of these fruit in the markets and roadside.

Melons belong to the family Cucurbitaceae. The family Cucurbitaceae contains economically important genera such as Cucumis, which includes cucumber and melons. A recently accepted procedure has been to divide all melons into two categories, viz., melons and watermelons.

Although all melons are classified as Cucumis melo, several “botanical” or “varietal” subdivisions are recognized. Some of these are: Cucumis melo var. cantaloupensis, Cucumis melo var. reticulates, Cucumis melo var. inodorous, Cucumis melo var. flesuoxus and Cucumis melo var. conomon.

Musk melons

(Hindi: Kharbooja, Tamil: Mulampazham)

Muskmelon (cantaloupe) or Common Melon is botanically known as Cucumis melo (Linn.). It is native to South Asia, found growing in the wild from the foot of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. It seems to have spread to China, Japan, Iran, Turkey and Asia Minor and is also cultivated in the temperate and warm regions of the world. In India it is mainly cultivated in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Pusa Sharbati, Lucknow Safeda, Hara Madhum Kutama, Durgapur, Madhu, Arka Jeet and Arka Rjhans are the Indian varieties. Muskmelons have a cooling effect and are a good source of vitamins A, B and C.

01

The many varieties of melon show great diversity in foliage and still more in the size and shape of the fruit. Some kinds are small and others are of medium size like the small variety of watermelon. The outer skin is smooth, ribbed or furrowed and mostly yellowish white in colour.

These melons should be firm, well netted, well formed and pulled at full slip for best quality. “Full slip” is the stage of ripeness at which the melon comes away easily from the stem attachment and where the skin begins to take on a slightly yellow appearance under the netting. Muskmelons attain their highest quality in fruits that have been harvested when they have reached their maximum sugar content.

The following varieties are commonly grown for commercial purpose: Eastern type muskmelons are round to oval, with netted rind and sweet orange flesh. Western types are often called cantaloupe, which are round to slightly oval, very well netted, with firm, salmon-coloured and sweet flesh. The honey dew melon is smooth, with a greenish-white rind, which turns creamy when ripe. It is harvested when the stem end is slightly springy and the skin begins to take on a creamy yellow appearance.

Crenshaw, canary, Santa Claus, charantais (a popular European melon), Mediterranean melon, Persian melon, Ogen melon also called Mediterranean delight, Rochet melon, Chinese Hami melon and Japanese melons are other varieties of melons.

Watermelon

(Hindi:  Tarbooj, Tamil:  Tarbuza)

The watermelon is a warm-season crop and can be grown in any well-drained soil. It has a smooth rind, and is generally oblong. The colour of the outer skin may be light or dark green, with or without stripes. The colour of the flesh may be dark red, red or yellow with black seeds. Many new varieties of watermelons have been developed in recent years.

02

It is a refreshing staple fruit in Egypt and Palestine. It has been cultivated since earliest times in Egypt and the East and was known in Southern Europe and Asia before the Christian era. The watermelon is a native of Africa. The cultivation of the melon in Asia dates back to very ancient times. The Egyptians, Romans and Greeks cultivated it. It was extensively cultivated in France in 1629 while in America; watermelons were grown as early as 1629 in Massachusetts and in 1664 in Florida.

It is one of the most important vegetables grown in all parts of India, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It can grow extensively in barren soil. Sugar baby, Asahi yamate, Charleston grey, Pusa bedana (seedless) are the varieties grown in India. Many new varieties of watermelons have been developed in recent years. Yellow and seedless types are taking an increasing share of the specialty watermelon market.

03

Charleston Gray, Baby Gray, Prince Charles, Minilee, Mickylee, Charlee, Sugar Baby, (dark green skin), Tiger Baby (oval with green stripes on light green background) are the seeded red flesh varieties and King of Hearts, Nova, and Laurel are seedless varieties of red water melons.

The seeds of both the muskmelon and watermelon are good vermicides, and have been used as a popular remedy for worms. The seeds have been used to treat infection in the urinary passage as they have diuretic properties.

Watermelons are very healthy because they are low in calories and high in Vitamin A and C, in the form of disease fighting beta-carotene. They contain a powerful antioxidant lycopene, which is very effective in preventing some forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is believed that the presence of potassium in the watermelon controls blood pressure and prevents strokes.

Dr. M. Amirthalingam
C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC)

Source: Eco News, Vol.8, No.4, January – March 2003.


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