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Cucumis melo.

Related entries: Cucumis - Cucumis sativus

Cucumis melo Linn. Cantaloupe. Melon. Muskmelon.

Old World tropics. Naudin divides the varieties of melon into ten sections, which differ not only in their fruits but also in their leaves and their entire habit or mode of growth. Some melons are no larger than small plums, others weigh as much as 66 pounds; one variety has a scarlet fruit; another is only one inch in diameter but three feet long and is coiled in a serpentine manner in all directions. The fruit of one variety can scarcely be distinguished from cucumbers; one Algerian variety suddenly splits up into sections when ripe. The melons of our gardens may be divided into two sections: those with green flesh, as the citron and nutmeg; those with yellow flesh, as the Christiana, cantaloupe and Persian melons, with very thin skins and melting honey-like flesh of delicious flavor. In England, melons with red, green, and white flesh are cultivated.

By the earlier and unscientific travellers, the term melon has been used to signify watermelons, the Macock gourd of Virginia, and it has even been applied to pumpkins by our early horticulturists. The names used by the ancient writers and translated by some to mean melon, seem also in doubt. Thus, according to Fraas, the sikua of Theophrastus was the melon. In Liddell and Scott's Lexicon, the definition is given "a fruit like the melon or gourd but eaten ripe." Fraas says the melon is the pepon of Dioscorides. The Lexicon says "sikuos pepon, or more frequently o pepon, a kind of gourd or melon not eaten till quite ripe." Fraas says " he melon is the melopepon of Galen and the melo of Pliny." Andrews' Latin Lexicon gives under melopepo "an apple-shaped melon, cucumber melon, not eaten till fully ripe." Pliny, on the other hand, says in Greece in his day it was named peponia. In Italy, in 1539, the names of pepone, melone and mellone were applied to it. In Sardinia, where it is remarked by De Candolle that Roman traditions are well preserved, it is called meloni. As a summary, we may believe that although "a kind of gourd not eaten until fully ripe" may have been cultivated in ancient Greece and Rome, or even by the Jews under their Kings, as Unger asserts, yet the admiration of the authors of the sixteenth century for the perfume and exquisite taste of the melon, as contrasted with the silence of the Romans, who were not less epicurean, is assuredly a proof that the melon had not at that time, even if known, attained its present luscious and perfumed properties, and it is an indication, as De Candolle observes, "of the novelty of the fruit in Europe." When we consider, moreover, the rapidity of its diffusion through the savage tribes of America to remote regions, we cannot believe that a fruit so easily transported through its seed could have remained secluded during such a long period of history.

Albertus Magnus, in the thirteenth century, says, melons, which some call pepones, have the seed and the flower very nearly like those of the cucumber and also says, in speaking of the cucumber, that the seeds are like those of the pepo. Under the head of watermelon, citrullus, he calls the melon pepo, and says it has a smooth, green skin, but the pepo is commonly yellow and of an uneven surface and as if round, semi-circular sections were orderly arranged together. In 1536, Ruellius describes our melon as the pepo; in 1542, Fuchsius describes the melon, but figures it under the name of pepo. In 1550, Roeszlin figures the melon under the name of pepo, and in 1558 Matthiolus figures it under the name of melon. The Greek name of pepon, and the Italian, German, Spanish and French of melon, variously spelled, are given among synonyms by various authors of the sixteenth century; melones sive pepones are used by Pinaeus, 1561; melone and pepone by Castor Durante, 1617, and by Gerarde in England, 1597. Melons and pompions are used synonymously, and the melon is called muske-melon or million.

Whether the ancients knew the melon is a matter of doubt. Dioscorides, in the first century, says the flesh or pulp (cara) of the pepo used in food is diuretic. Pliny, about the same period, says a new form of cucumber has lately appeared in Campania called melopepo, which grows on the ground in a round form, and he adds, as a remarkable circumstance, in addition to their color and odor, that when ripe, although not suspended, yet the fruit separates from the stem at maturity. Galen, in the second century, treating of medicinal properties, says the autumn fruits (i. e., ripe) do not excite vomiting as do the unripe, and further says mankind abstains from the inner flesh of the pepo, where the seed is borne but eats it in the melopepo. A half-century later, Palladius gives directions for planting melones and speaks of them as being sweet and odorous. Apicius, a writer on cookery, about 230 A. D., directs that pepones and melones be served with various spices corresponding in part to present customs, and Nonnius, an author of the sixth century, speaks of cucumbers which are odoriferous. In the seventh century, Paulus Agineta, a medical writer, mentions the medicinal properties of the melopepo as being of the same character but less than that of the pepo, and separates these from the cucurbita and cucumis, not differing from Galen, already quoted.

From these remarks concerning odor and sweetness, which particularly apply to our melon, and the mention of the spontaneous falling of the ripe fruit, a characteristic of no other garden vegetable, we are inclined to believe that these references are to the melon, and more especially so as the authors of the sixteenth and following centuries make mention of many varieties, as Amatus Lusitanus, 1554, who says, quorum varietas ingens est, and proceeds to mention some as thin skinned, others as thicker skinned, some red fleshed, others white.

In 1259, Tch'ang Te, according to Bretschneider, found melons, grapes and pomegranates of excellent quality in Turkestan. This Chinese traveller may have brought seeds to China, where Loureiro states the melons are of poor quality and whence they did not spread, for Rumphius asserts that melons were carried into the islands of the Asiatic Archipelago by the Portuguese. Smith, however, in his Materia Medica of China, says Chang K'ien, the noted legate of the Han dynasty, seems to have brought this "foreign cucumber" from central Asia to China, where it is now largely cultivated and eaten both raw and in a pickle. According to Pasquier, melons were unknown in central or northern Europe until the reign of Charles VIII, 1483-1498, King of France, who brought them from Italy. We find a statement by J. Smith that they were supposed to have been first introduced from Egypt into Rome. They were perhaps known commonly in Spain before 1493, for Columbus on his second voyage found melons "already grown, fit to eat, tho' it was not above two months since the seed was put into the ground." In 1507, Martin Baumgarten, travelling in Palestine, mentions melons as brought to him by the inhabitants. In 1513, Herrera, a Spanish writer, says, "if the melon is good, it is the best fruit that exists, and none other is preferable to it. If it is bad, it is a bad thing, we are wont to say that the good are like good women, and the bad like bad women." In the time of Matthiolus, 1570, many excellent varieties were cultivated. The melon has been cultivated in England, says Don, since 1570, but the precise date of its introduction is unknown, though originally brought from Jamaica.

The culture of the melon is not very ancient, says De Candolle, and the plant has never been found wild in the Mediterranean region, in Africa, in India or the Indian Archipelago. It is now extensively cultivated in Armenia, Ispahan, Bokhara and elsewhere in Asia; in Greece, South Russia, Italy and the shores of the Mediterranean. About 1519, the Emperor Baber is said to have shed tears over a melon of Turkestan which he cut up in India after his conquest, its flavor bringing his native country to his recollection. In China, it is cultivated but, as Loureiro says, is of poor quality. In Japan, Thunberg, 1776, says the melon is much cultivated, but the more recent writers on Japan are very sparing of epithets conveying ideas of qualities. Capt. Cook apparently distributed the melon in suitable climates along his course around the world, as he has left record of so doing at many places; as, the Lefooga Islands, May 1777, at Hiraheime, October, 1777.

Columbus is recorded as finding melons at Isabela Island in 1494 on his return from his second voyage, and the first grown in the New World are to be dated March 29, 1494. The rapidity and extent of their diffusion may be gathered from the following mentions. In 1516, "melons different from those here " were seen by Pascual de Andagoya in Central America. In Sept. 1535, Jacques Cartier mentions the Indians at Hochelega, now Montreal, as having "musk mellons." In 1881, muskmelons from Montreal appeared in the Boston market. In 1749, Kalm found at Quebec melons abounding and always eaten with sugar. In 1540, Lopez de Gomara, in the expedition to New Mexico, makes several mentions of melons. In 1542, the army of the Viceroy of Mexico sent to Cibolo found the melon already there. In 1583, Antonis de Espejo found melons cultivated by the Choctaw Indians. In 1744, the melon is mentioned as cultivated by the Coco Maricopas Indians by Father Sedelmayer, and melons are mentioned on the Colorado River by Vinegas, 1758. In 1565, melons are reported by Benzoni as abounding in Hayti, but melon seeds appear not to have been planted in the Bermudas until 1609.

Muskmelons are said to have been grown in Virginia in 1609 and are again mentioned in 1848. In 1609, melons are mentioned by Hudson as found on the Hudson River. Muskmelons are mentioned by Master Graves in his letter of 1629 as abounding in New England and again by Wm. Woods, 1629-33. According to Hilton's Relation, musk-melons were cultivated by the Florida Indians prior to 1664. In 1673 the melon is said to have been cultivated by the Indians of Illinois, and Father Marquette n pronounced them excellent, especially those with a red seed. In 1822, Woods says: ''There are many sorts of sweet melons, and much difference in size in the various kinds. I have only noticed musk, of a large size, and nutmeg, a smaller one; and a small, pale colored melon of a rich taste, but there are other sorts with which I am unacquainted." In 1683, some melon seeds were sown by the Spaniards on the Island of California. The Indians about Philadelphia grew melons preceding 1748, according to Kalm. In Brazil, melons are mentioned by Nieuhoff, 1647, and by Father Angelo, 1666.

In various parts of Africa, as in Senegal and Abeokuta, and in China, the seeds are collected and an oil expressed which is used for food and other purposes and is also exported. In 1860, the production in Senegal was 62,266 kilos., and a considerable amount was shipped from Chefoo, China, in 1875. During the Civil War many farmers in the southern states made molasses and sugar from muskmelons and cantaloupes. In Kentucky, an occasional experiment has been made in converting a surplusage of melons into syrups with considerable success.

Notes on Classification.

  1. Early and late melons, as also winter melons, are described by Amatus, 1554; summer and winter, by Bauhin, 1623.
  2. White- and red-fleshed are described by Amatus, 1554; yellow-fleshed by Dodonaeus, 1616; green-fleshed by Marcgravius 1648; green, golden, pale yellow and ashen by Bauhin, 1623.
  3. Sugar melons are named sucrinos by Ruellius, 1536; succrades rouges and succrades blanches by Chabraeus, 1677; and succris and succredes by Dalechamp, 1587.
  4. Netted melons are named by Camerarius, 1586, as also the ribbed. The warted are mentioned in the Adversaria 1570; rough, warted and smooth, by Bauhin, 1623.
  5. The round, long, oval and pear-form are mentioned by Gerarde, 1597; the quince form, by Dalechamp, 1587; the oblong, by Dodonaeus, 1616; the round, oblong, depressed, or flat, by Bauhin, 1623.

Cucumis melo dudaim Naud. Dudaim Melon. Pomegranate Melon. Queen Anne's-Pocket Melon.

Equatorial Africa. The fruit is globose-ovate, as large as a lemon, and not edible but is cultivated for its strong and pleasant odor. It has a very fragrant, musky smell and a whitish, flaccid, insipid pulp.

Cucumis melo flexuosus Naud. Snake Cucumber. Snake Melon.

East Indies. This melon is cultivated in Japan and is called by the Dutch banket melon.


Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World, 1919, was edited by U. P. Hedrick.



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