Archaeological and artistic evidence suggests that ancient Egyptians enjoyed eating watermelons over 3,500 years ago.  A tiny fragment of a watermelon leaf as well as tomb paintings indicate that the melons probably were oval, sweet, and had red flesh.  Scientists believe that the watermelons were grown in the Nile Valley and consumed for both their high water content and sweet fruit.  Over the centuries  watermelon cultivation has spread to tropical and temperate regions all over the world and  today there are over 1000 varieties.  Watermelon plants are prostrate or climbing annuals with stems that grow up to 10′ long.  the stems have  a dense covering of yellow or brown hairs when young, and tendrils that are branched and curling.   The hairy coarse leaves are up to 7 3/4″ long and pinnately lobed.  White to yellow male and female flowers appear in the leaf axils on the same plant in summer.  Male flowers open first and are followed by the female flowers that if fertilized produce a fruit known as a pepo.  The pepo  has a thick green rind that may be mottled or striped, and black seeds spread throught the white, pink, yellow, orange or green  flesh.  Seedless varieties are available.

The Hebrew word  אבטיח‎ ’ăḇaṭṭiḥ  is used in Numbers 11.5  and often translated as melon but scholars believe that the reference is to the  watermelon.   

Numbers 11.5 As the Israelites wandered in the desert they complained about the lack of foods that they had eaten when living in Egypt.

 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.”

Watermelons like full sun and fertile, moist loams in areas with long summers as they need a longer growing season than most other melons.  They are susceptible to numerous pests and diseases including mites, squash vine borers, aphids, squash bugs, stink bugs, cutworms, pickleworm, cucumber beetles, downy and powdery mildews, bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, blossom end rot and anthracnose. Propagation is by seed.

The genus name and specific epithet Citrullus is the diminutive of the Latin word citrus, the name of the citron tree.  The genus name Curcurbita, may be related from the Medieval Latin word cucumis, meaning cucumber.  The specific epithet, lanatus, comes from the Latin word lana meaning wool and refers to the hairs on the plant.

By Karen