When biting into a slice of juicy watermelon, few people think of its origin. Watermelon originated in the Kalahari in southern Africa thousands of years ago. The seeds were taken to various continents, and over one hundred cultivars are currently grown worldwide.
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. Watermelons have been used as an important water source by rural people living in dry climates for centuries. Seeds dating back many centuries have been found in India, China, and Libya. Free black people in the United States grew watermelons, and they became a symbol of the abolition of slavery.
Watermelons grow on a vine that creeps on the ground or climbs if given an adequate structure to support it. The stems are up to ten feet long and have yellow or brown hairs when the plant is young. The hairs disappear as the watermelon plant ages. Branching tendrils with short stalks hold large lobed leaves. The leaves are covered in coarse hair.
Watermelon plants produce yellow or white flowers, which give rise to watermelon fruit. The fruit is considered a berry or a pepo, to use the correct botanical term. Watermelons are usually twenty to twenty-four inches in diameter and can weigh up to fifty pounds. The watermelon rind is dark green or striped.
Related: When Are Watermelons In Season?
Watermelons grow best in warm climates with a long growing period. The plants need full sunlight, good drainage, rich soil, and consistent water.
1. Watermelon Peperomia
Watermelon peperomia (Peperomia argyreia) are part of the Piperaceae family and are unrelated to watermelon plants. Peperomias are indigenous to Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil.
Watermelon peperomia gave oval leaves with silvery green stripes on a dark green background. The coloring and shape of the leaves are reminiscent of watermelons, giving them the name watermelon peperomias. The leaves are fleshy and relatively large compared to the size of the plant.
There are two kinds of watermelon peperomia. The regular kind grows to about twelve inches in ideal conditions but may be slightly smaller when planted in pots. The dwarf cultivar grows to a maximum of six inches. The leaves are bunched in a rosette shape. Gardeners usually plant multiple watermelon peperomia together to enhance the impact of their appearance.
Watermelon peperomia do best in filtered light. When planted outside, they do well in partial shade or under trees. They need regular watering when the top layer of the soil is dry. Avoid over or underwatering as both are harmful to the plant. Watermelon peperomia do best in warm, humid climates, similar to the jungles where they originated.
Pumpkin is a generalized term used for various squash species from the family Cucurbita. Pumpkins are truly an American tradition as they are indigenous to North America and Mexico. Their popularity spread throughout the world, and now pumpkins are grown in almost every nation.
Pumpkins, like watermelons, grow on a vine that usually creeps on the ground but may climb if given suitable support. Pumpkin plants spread, and the vines can easily be twenty feet long. The stems are often hairy, but this feature varies with different cultivars. They have large leaves which may be lobed or unlobed.
As pumpkins belong to the same genus as watermelon, the fruit (or pumpkin) is considered a berry or pepo. Pumpkins may have yellow, orange, white, green, or striped skin. Pumpkins vary in size according to the cultivar. Some giant pumpkin cultivars can have pumpkins that weigh seventy-five pounds. The record is held by an Italian gardener who grew a pumpkin that weighed two thousand seven hundred and two pounds.
Pumpkins grow best in full sunlight with a plentiful water supply and good drainage. They should not be waterlogged or dry for extended periods. They need a moderate climate as they are not frost-tolerant.
Cucamelon (Melothria scabra) is also known as pepquinos, sandiita, sandia de raton, Mexican sour cucumber, Mexican miniature watermelon, or mouse melon. Like watermelons, it belongs to the Cucurbit family and produces an edible fruit or pepo. It is native to Central America, growing from Venezuela to Mexico.
Cucamelon plants grow as a vine and can be almost ten feet long. They generally prefer to climb, and supportive structures, such as a trellis, should be provided for the plant. The one-to-three-inch leaves have three to five lobes. The leaf veins are prominent, giving the leaf a cushioned appearance.
Cucamelon fruit looks just like a miniature watermelon. They have the same striped skin and shape as a watermelon. The fruit are one to one and a half inches long and about one inch wide. The stripes on the cucamelon are two different shades of green. They taste like citrus or lime-flavored cucumbers and may be eaten raw or pickled.
As they are native to Central America, they need a warm environment with high humidity and a good water supply. They can grow as perennials in warm climates with mild winters. They do not survive frosts or icy temperatures and grow as a perennial in these conditions.
Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is also a part of the Cucurbit family, and it is not surprising that it looks similar to watermelons. Cucumber first grew natively in South Asia, but due to its popularity, it is now cultivated all over the world. In places where the climate is unsuitable, cucumbers are often grown in greenhouses. The Ancient Romans were the first gardeners to grow cucumbers in greenhouses.
Cucumber grows as a creeping vine that likes to climb vertically, wrapping tendrils around the support. It will creep along the ground if no support is available. They have large leaves which often grow above the fruit, providing shade. The leaves are intense green and usually not lobed.
Cucumber fruit are produced after the plant produces a yellow flower. They need a long growing season to produce cucumbers. The fruit is regarded as a pepo and is elongated and cylindrical. Cucumbers are initially green but become yellow as they enlarge. Yellow fruit will taste bitter and unpleasant to eat. Some cultivars produce cucumbers that are yellow when they are ready to eat.
Cucumbers need a mild climate where spring and summer make up most of the months of the year. Hot, humid conditions are ideal as they do not have good yields in cold climates. They need consistent watering and good drainage. There are various cultivars which include seedless, slicing, and pickling cucumbers.
5. Coyote Gourd
Coyote gourd is the common name given to Cucurbita palmata which belongs to the Cucurbit family. It is a squash that is also sometimes known as coyote melon. These plants are found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Unlike many other Cucurbit plants, the coyote gourd grows in deserts.
Coyote gourds grow on a thick fibrous vine that generally creeps along the ground. It has short, stiff hairs, which are unpleasant to touch and can cause some skin irritation. The leaves have five distinct lobes. They are dark green with lighter green or silvery stripes resembling a watermelon.
Cucurbita palmata produces coyote gourds which are fruit three to four inches in diameter. They are a similar color to the leaves when they first develop. As the round gourd matures, it changes color to become bright yellow and ultimately gold when it dries out. Coyote melon is unpalatable and inedible. It has been primarily used in the dried form to make bowls or cups. Dried gourds were also used to make rattles for traditional tribal dancing.
It is a hardy plant that survives hot, dry conditions. Coyote gourd is not found outside of its natural range as it has no culinary use and little ornamental value.