Citrullus colocynthis Schrad. Cucurbitaceae. Bitter Gourd. Colocynth.
Tropical Africa. This creeping plant grows abundantly in the Sahara, in Arabia, on the Coromandel coast and in some of the islands of the Aegean. The fruit, which is about as large as an orange, contains an extremely bitter and drastic pulp, from which the drug colocynth is obtained. Thunberg says this gourd is rendered so perfectly mild at the Cape of Good Hope, by being properly pickled, that it is eaten by the natives and by the colonists. The gourds are also made into preserves with sugar, having been previously pierced all over with knives and then boiled in six or seven waters until all the bitterness disappears. Gypsies eat the kernel of the seed freed from the seed-skin by a slight roasting. Flückiger says the seed kernels are used as a food in the African desert, after being carefully deprived of their coatings. Stille says they are reported to be mild, oleaginous and nutritious. Captain Lyon speaks also of their use in northern Africa. In India, according to Vaupell, there is a sweet variety which is edible and cultivated.
Citrullus vulgaris Schrad. Watermelon.
Tropical Africa. The watermelon has succeeded especially well under American culture, the varieties being many in number and continuously increasing, either through importation or through the process of selection. The size has also become enormous selected specimens sometimes weighing 96 pounds or even more. The varieties vary in shape from round to oblong and in color from a light green to almost a black, self-colored or striped with paler green or marbled. The flesh may be white, cream-color, honey-color, pale red, red or scarlet. The seeds are white, white with two black spots, cream-colored tipped with brown and a brown stripe around the edge, yellow with a black stripe round the margin and with black spots, dark brown, reddish-brown, russet-brown, black, sculptured or as if engraved with ornamental characters, and pink or red.
The watermelon is mentioned by the early botanists and described as of large size, but it must be considered that this fruit even now is not as successfully grown in Europe as in more southern countries. That none or few types have originated under modern culture is indicated by an examination into the early records.
Size.—Cardanus, 1556, writes that the size is sometimes so great that a man can scarcely embrace the fruit with his expanded arms. Marcgravius, 1648, describes those of Brazil as being as large as a man's head, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller. In 1686, Ray says the size is such as to be scarcely grasped with the two hands; this is what J. Bauhin wrote many years earlier for he died in 1613. The figures in the earlier botanies, of which there are many, all indicate a small-sized fruit, although the description is usually of a "large" or "very large" fruit.
Shape.—Round fruits are mentioned by Fuchsius, 1542; by Cardanus, 1556; Garcia ab Horto, 1567; Marcgravius, 1648; Piso, 1658; and Ray, 1686. Subround or roundish, by Camerarius, 1586; and Gerarde, 1597. Oblong by Garcia ab Horto, 1567; Loureiro, 1790. Oval, by Garcia ab Horto, 1567. Elliptical, by Marcgravius, 1648; and Ray, 1686.
Color.—Grass-green, by Fuchsius, 1542. Green, by Albertus Magnus, thirteenth century; Bauhin, 1596; Gerarde, 1597. Grass-green and spotted, by Matthiolus, 1570; Camerarius, 1596; Dalechamp, 1587. Green and spotted, by Bauhin, 1596. Blackish, by Gerarde, 1597.
Flesh.—Red, by Bauhin, 1596; 1623, Marcgravius, 1648. White, by Bauhin, 1596, 1623, Chabraeus, 1677. Scarlet, by Marcgravius, 1648. Pale red, by Piso, 1658; Loureiro, 1790. Yellow, by Bryant, 1783. Flesh-color, by Josselyn, 1663.
Seed.—Chestnut-brown, by Fuchsius, 1542. Purple-red, by Tragus, 1552. Black, by Matthiolus, 1570; Camerarius, 1596; Dalechamp, 1587; Bauhin, 1596; J. Bauhin, 1651. Red, by Matthiolus, 1570; Bauhin, 1596; Sloane, 1696; Bryant, 1783. Reddish, by Camerarius, 1586. Brown, by Bauhin, 1596; Marcgravius, 1648. Raven-black, by Marcgravius, 1648. White, by J. Bauhin, 1651. Sculptured, by Forskal, 1775.
It is interesting to note that the older writers described some varieties as sweet, others as insipid and acid. Livingstone describes the wild watermelons of South Africa as some sweet and wholesome, others bitter and deleterious. The bitter or acid forms do not now appear in our culture.
The most surprising plant of the South African desert, writes Livingstone, is the kengwe or keme, the watermelon. In years when more than the usual quantity of rain falls, vast tracts of the country are literally covered with these melons. Some are sweet, and others so bitter that they are named by the Boers the "bitter watermelon." The bitter ones are deleterious, but the sweet are quite wholesome. As this missionary observer was not a botanist, it is possible that this species may have been the colocynth, Citrullus colocynthis, or a hybrid of the colocynth and the watermelon.
Rauwolf, 1574, found the watermelon growing in abundance in the gardens of Tripoli, Rama and Aleppo under the name bathieca, the root of which word, says R. Thompson, is from the Hebrew abattichim, one of the fruits of Egypt which the Jews regretted in the wilderness. The watermelon still forms the chief food and drink of the inhabitants of Egypt for several months in the year. In Bagdad, also, it is a staple summer food. Pallas says in southern Russia the people make a beer from their abundant crops of watermelons, with the addition of hops. They also make a conserve or marmalade from the fruit, which is an excellent substitute for syrup or molasses. In 1662, Nieuhoff found the watermelon called batiek by the Indians of Batavia, some being white, others red and the seeds black. This melon is said to have been introduced into Britain in 1597. By European colonists, says Pickering, it was carried to Brazil and the West Indies, to eastern North America, to the islands of the Pacific, to New Zealand and Australia.
Watermelons are mentioned by Master Graves as abounding in Massachusetts in 1629, and shortly after Josselyn speaks of it as a fruit "proper to the countrie. The flesh of it is of a flesh-colour...and excellent against the stone." "A large fruit, but nothing near so big as a pompion; colour smoother, and of a sad grass-green, rounder, or, more rightly, sap-green; with some yellowness admixt when ripe. The seeds are black; the flesh, or puipe, exceeding juicy." Before 1664, according to Hilton, watermelons were cultivated by the Florida Indians. In 1673, Father Marquette, who descended the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, speaks of melons, "which are excellent, especially those with a red seed." In 1822, Woods says of the Illinois region: "Watermelons are also in great plenty, of vast size; some I suppose weigh 20 pounds. They are more like pumpkins in outward appearance than melons. They are round or oblong, generally green, or a green and whitish color on the outside, and white or pale on the inside, with many black seeds in them, very juicy, in flavor like rich water, and sweet and mawkish, but cool and pleasant." In 1747, Jared Eliot mentions watermelons in Connecticut, the seed of which came originally from Archangel in Russia. In 1799, watermelons were raised by the tribes on the Colorado River. In 1806, McMahon describes four kinds. They are now cultivated throughout the warm regions of the globe.