Watermelon: What Is This Plant That Produces Those Delicious Fruits?

The summertime is the perfect time to grow watermelons – at least for those living in hot climates. Watermelons aren’t hard to grow, but they need plenty of nutrients, sunlight, air, and water to grow. So, during the summer months, this sweet, juicy veggie grows best. Those in warmer areas may sow the seeds directly outdoors in spring. In contrast, the cold-climate gardeners should start their watermelon indoors or in a greenhouse.

Watermelons grow pretty quickly, but the veggie needs about 70 to 90 days to grow to maturity. This, of course, depends on the variety. But what the watermelon plant is? Well, at least we know that they are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, containing plants like cucumber, squash, pumpkin, and zucchini. Now it’s time to learn more about this excellent plant that produces those tasty fruits that we all love!

Common NameWatermelon
Botanical NameCitrullus Lanatus
Plant TypeAnnual / Perennial
Size (Fully Grown)Vines Can Reach A Length Of 20 Feet (about 6,1 meters)
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Soil TypeSandy, Or Loamy, But Well-drained
Soil pH6.0 To 6.8
Flower ColorYellow
Hardiness Zones3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11
Native AreaTropical Africa

Different Watermelon Types

To distinguish between watermelon varieties, we prefer to use four separate terms. These four terms don’t apply to the direct variation but the characteristics of the melon. This enables us to combine several watermelon types under one group. The four terms used to characterize this plant are:

1. Seeded

They are used to define round or elongated watermelons, weighing about 15 to 45 pounds (approximately 6,8 to 20,4 kg). These watermelons have black seeds.

2. Seedless

These are hybrid watermelons that are the most common type because of their unseeded nature. Generally, these watermelons weigh about 15 pounds (about 6,8 kg). Seedless watermelons still have tiny white seeds, but they are easy to eat. Some varieties which fall within this category involve:

  1. Trio
  2. Bijou
  3. Nova
  4. Crimson
  5. Millionaire
  6. Jack Of Hearts
  7. King Of Hearts
  8. Queen Of Hearts
  9. Miniature Watermelons

There are also smaller types that have a thin rind. Variants like the Sugar Baby and the Tiger Baby come under that group.

3. Orange Or Yellow Watermelons

Variants that lack lycopene come under the umbrella of orange or yellow melons. Common types that fall within this category involve:

  1. Yellow Doll
  2. Desert King
  3. Tender-gold
  4. Yellow Baby

Where Did Watermelon Originally Come From?

The watermelon is a plant species that originated from Africa, where it grows in the wild. Colocynth or Citrullus colocynthis may be the natural parent of this plant; its native range stretches from the North and West Africa to West India and has been seen in Central Africa.

The first watermelons emerged in South Africa about 5,000 years ago. And we can still find many wild varieties from there, even types that are salty and bitter. By 2000BC, the plant was grown and used as a daily food in ancient Egypt. The oldest pieces of evidence about growing are painted in the houses’ hieroglyphs from that period.

Archeologists have also found watermelon remnants in the kings’ graves because people in those days believed that it is food for the dead. We can realize the importance of this excellent vegetable in tropical desert areas because they have a high water content. Even the bible mentions watermelons as the diet of ancient Israelites who, at that time, were slaves in Egypt.

Watermelon moved from Africa to Europe (Moors carried it in the 10th century), where it effectively flourished in the warmer regions of the Mediterranean. It reached India by the 7th century and, from there, to China. Currently, China is also the biggest producer in the world. Maybe because in the 17th century, watermelons were only recognized as an insignificant garden plant, so Europe didn’t produce them at that time.

European colonists and the African slave trade brought watermelons to the Americas. The first ones were produced in 16th century Florida. They were cultivated later in the 17th century in Massachusetts, Peru, Brazil, Panama, and in several British and Dutch settlements. Captain James Cook and other adventurers brought watermelons to the islands of Hawaii and the Pacific.

How To Recognize Watermelon?

These Watermelons Look Tasty

The watermelon is a big vegetable with a somewhat more or less spherical form. Its flesh is sweet reddish or yellowish. It’s a veggie that is very healthy and has very few calories. Also, the plant provides us essential minerals and vitamins.

The Plant

Watermelon is a creeping and climbing plant with long leaves and stems. The top part of the leaves is quite soft, while the other end is very rough with clearly defined veins. The leaves are broken down into oval parts, each with 3 to 5 lobes.

The flowers develop inside the leaves’ axils. They are male and female, yellow and isolated: insects pollinate them, and the feminine flowers become the fruits. The sap is pink or reddish, with several splattered seeds of different colors (brown, black, white, etc.). The crust is either smooth or has visible lines and varies from deep green to light green color.

The Fruit

The fruit is big with a diameter of up to 9.8 inches (about 25 cm) and, in certain situations, weighs up to 33 pounds (about 15 kg). It has a round or spherical shape and a dark green and uniform rind, often exhibiting light green irregular patches.

Fun fact, the heaviest watermelon ever grown weighed a whopping 350 pounds (about 159 kg)!

It has a yellowish or reddish soft, nutritious, juicy flesh with many black, brown, or white seeds. Some new strains, developed in recent years, have modified this classic feature, bringing seedless fruit, yellow pulp variants, or even smaller fruits.

Best Growing Conditions For Watermelons

Watermelons are warm-weather crops that need a temperature of around 77°F (about 25°C) to survive. They also need insects to pollinate their flowers. This basically means that cold and gloomy weather isn’t an optimal environment for growing them.

Soil And Sun

Watermelons can handle a soil pH as low as 5.0, but they flourish at a pH of 6 to 6.8. I recommend you add manure or some other soil amendment to give your plant enough to feed on. If you have the chance to grow your melons in a compost pile, use this opportunity as the soil can help ensure heat and plenty of nitrogen for your melons.

Watermelons need about 8 to 10 hours of sunlight per day to grow to their greatest potential. Without an adequate amount of light, the fruit will be stunted and have a bad taste.

Water And Fertilizer

For the most part, the flavor of watermelon comes from the amount of water it gets. The vines are susceptible to drought, so the soil must be sufficiently humid. If it isn’t, KEEP IT HUMID! I also want to remind you that automating the watering task with a drip irrigation system is the best way to distribute water directly to your plants.

You should also regularly fertilize your melons to make sure they prosper. Add fertilizer for a steady source of nutrients during the growth period. If the fertilizer is organic, even better, but try to avoid fertilizer types with herbicides as they might damage the plant.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Watermelons?

Watermelon is a healthy food to eat but let’s look if it’s safe to consume it if you or someone you know is having a medical condition that requires you to be cautious about what you put into your mouth.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

It’s good to eat them during your pregnancy and when you’re breastfeeding. Owing to it’s high water content, it can help sustain the body’s fluid balance during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Children

Children can eat watermelon once they become six months old. The plant is about 95 percent water, which will help keep your little one hydrated.

People With Allergies

If you or someone you know has a watermelon allergy, you should also ignore other melon species. So, if you have an allergy, you must be careful with other related plants in this category, like honeydew melons.

People With Diabetes

Watermelon is a healthy plant to eat if you or someone you know has diabetes BUT in small amounts. Eating it and other foods containing lots of good fats, fiber, and protein is an excellent thing!

Pets

A watermelon’s flesh is a healthy and nutritious snack for your pets, but remember not to feed the other pieces to your pet. While this plant is a good snack in limited amounts, consuming too much of it may also cause your pet a disturbed stomach due to its high fiber content.

Featured image credit – © PiyawatNandeenoparit – stock.adobe.com

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