Origin of the dessert watermelon, Citrullus lanatus

H.S. Paris
Watermelons, Citrullus species, are native to Africa and have been cultivated since ancient times. The fruit flesh of wild watermelons is watery, but typically hard-textured, pale-colored and bland or bitter. The familiar sweet dessert watermelons, C. lanatus, featuring non-bitter, tender, well-colored flesh, have a narrow genetic base, suggesting that they originated from a series of selection events in a single ancestral population. The objective of the present investigation was to determine where dessert watermelons originated. Archaeological remains of watermelons, mostly seeds, that date from 5,000 years ago have been found in northeastern Africa. An image of a large, striped oblong fruit on a tray has been found in an Egyptian tomb that dates to at least 4,000 years ago. The Greek word pepon, Latin pepo and Hebrew avattiah of the first centuries CE were used for the same large, thick-rinded, wet fruit which, evidently, was the watermelon. Wild and primitive watermelons have been observed repeatedly in Sudan and neighboring countries of northeastern Africa. The diverse evidence, combined, indicates that northeastern Africa is the center of origin of the dessert watermelon and that watermelons were domesticated for water and food there over 4,000 years ago. Next-generation ancient-DNA sequencing and genomic analysis offer opportunities to rigorously assess the relationships among ancient and living wild and primitive watermelons from northeastern Africa, modern sweet dessert watermelons and other Citrullus taxa.
Paris, H.S. (2017). Origin of the dessert watermelon, Citrullus lanatus. Acta Hortic. 1151, 87-94
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2017.1151.15
https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.2017.1151.15
archaeobotany, citron watermelon, colocynth, crop history, egusi watermelon
English

Acta Horticulturae