An article about watermelons covering botanical information history cultivation growing production nutrition facts health benefits

An article about watermelons covering botanical information history cultivation growing production nutrition facts health benefits


Botanical information about watermelon

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a scrambling and trailing vine in the flowering plant family Cucurbitaceae. Watermelon is grown in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide for its large edible fruit, also known as a watermelon, which is a special kind of berry with a hard rind and no internal division, botanically called a pepo. The sweet, juicy flesh is usually deep red to pink, with many black seeds, although seedless varieties have been cultivated. The fruit can be eaten raw or pickled and the rind is edible after cooking. Watermelon is an annual that has a prostrate or climbing habit. Stems are up to 3 m long and new growth has yellow or brown hairs. Leaves are 60 to 200 mm long and 40 to 150 mm wide. Plants have both male and female flowers on 40 mm long hairy stalks. These are yellow and greenish on the back. Watermelon is a large annual plant with long, weak, trailing or climbing stems which are five-angled and up to 10 ft. long. The plant has branching tendrils. The white to yellow flowers grow singly in the leaf axils and the corolla is white or yellow inside and greenish-yellow on the outside. The flowers are unisexual, with male and female flowers occurring on the same plant (monoecious). The male flowers predominate at the beginning of the season; the female flowers, which develop later, have inferior ovaries. The large fruit is a kind of modified berry called a pepo with a thick rind and fleshy center. The flesh, containing numerous pips spread throughout the inside, can be red or pink, orange, yellow, green or white.


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History of watermelons

Watermelon is a flowering plant that originated in northeast Africa, where it is found growing wild. Citrullus colocynthis has sometimes been considered to be a wild ancestor of the watermelon; its native range extends from North and West Africa to west India. Evidence of the cultivation of both C. lanatus and C. colocynthis in the Nile Valley has been found from the second millennium BC onward, and seeds of both species have been found at Twelfth Dynasty sites and in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

In the 7th century, watermelons were being cultivated in India, and by the 10th century had reached China, which is today the world’s single largest watermelon producer. The Moors introduced the fruit into Spain and there is evidence of it being cultivated in Córdoba in 961 and also in Seville in 1158. It spread northwards through southern Europe, perhaps limited in its advance by summer temperatures being insufficient for good yields. The fruit had begun appearing in European herbals by 1600, and was widely planted in Europe in the 17th century as a minor garden crop.

Seedless watermelons were initially developed in 1939 by Japanese scientists who were able to create seedless triploid hybrids which remained rare initially because they did not have sufficient disease resistance. Seedless watermelons became more popular in the 21st century, rising to nearly 85% of total watermelon sales in the United States in 2014.


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Planting and growing watermelons

Watermelons need a long growing season (at least 80 days) and warm ground for seeds to germinate and grow. Soil should be 70 degrees F or warmer at planting time. Sow seeds 1 inch deep and keep well-watered until germination. To get a jumpstart in cooler climates, cover the planting area with black plastic to warm up the soil and start seeds indoors two or three weeks before they are to be set out in the garden. Don’t start seeds any earlier, because large watermelon seedlings transplant poorly. Plant 3 seeds in 3 or 4 inch peat pots or large cell packs, and thin to the best plant. Sow watermelon seeds 1/2 inch deep. Place in a sunny south-facing window or under lights to germinate. Make sure the area is warm (day and night), ideally 80 degrees F. Use a Seedling Heat Mat if necessary.

Cultivation of watermelons

Watermelon is a space hog; vines can reach 20 feet in length. So plant where there is plenty of open ground. Amend soil with organic matter such as compost or composted cow manure. Add a balanced fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Sow 8 to 10 watermelon seeds in a hill, and push seeds 1 inch into the soil. Space hills 3 to 4 feet apart, with at least 8 feet between rows. Keep soil free of weeds by shallow hoeing or with a layer of mulch. Watermelon plants have moderately deep roots and watering is seldom necessary unless the weather turns dry for a prolonged period. When vines begin to ramble, feed the soil around plants with half a cup of balanced fertilizer (5-10-5). A third application of fertilizer should be made when melons are set. Withhold water as melons start to mature to intensify sweetness.


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Harvesting of watermelons

Knowing how to determine when a watermelon is perfectly ripe is not easy. One way favored by many gardeners is to watch the tendril closest to the melon stem. A tendril is a modified leaf or stem in the shape of slender, spirally coil. When it turns brown and dries up, the melon is ripe. The trouble with this method is that with some watermelon varieties, the tendril dries and drops off more than a week before the melon is fully ripe. Slapping and tapping or thumping are other common methods used to determine ripeness, but they are not always accurate.

The surest sign of ripeness in most watermelon varieties is the color of the bottom spot where the melon sits on the ground. As the watermelon matures, the spot turns from almost white to a rich yellow. Also, all watermelons lose the powdery or slick appearance on the top and take on a dull look when fully ripe. After picking a watermelon, chill it before serving for best flavor. Some folks sprinkle a little salt on their watermelon, but it’s probably thought of as a cure for poor tasting store-bought melons and certainly not necessary for home-grown. If the seeds present a problem, grow seedless watermelon varieties like ‘Seedless Sugar Baby Hybrid’ or ‘Orange Sunshine Hybrid’. A cut melon, if covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, will keep several days in the refrigerator.


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Watermelon production in the United States

In 2016, global production of watermelons was 117 million tons, with China alone accounting for 68% of the total. Secondary producers with more than 1% of world production included Turkey, Iran, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Algeria, the United States, Russia, Egypt, Mexico, and Kazakhstan.

While watermelons are grown across the United States, most production occurs in 4 southern and western States that offer consistently warm temperatures of 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for a growing season that requires up to 3 months.

Most commercial production is limited to the South and Southwest. Florida has historically been the top producer of watermelons and accounted for 19 percent of the 3.9 billion pounds of U.S. watermelon production in 2012. Florida and three other States; Georgia, California, and Texas accounted for two-thirds of U.S. output in 2012.

Seedless varieties are in increasing demand, and the share of seedless watermelon in total watermelon shipments in the United States increased from 51 percent in 2003 to 83 percent in 2012.

Seedless varieties, typically started as transplants rather than from direct seeding, require more intensive management and are more reliant on bee pollination than seeded varieties, with the cost differences generally visible at the retail level.


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Nutrition facts of watermelons

Serving size: 2 cups diced (10 oz. / 280 g)
Calories: 80 (Calories from Fat 0)

Amount per serving (and %DV*)
*Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Total Fat: 0g (0%)

Total Carbohydrate: 21g (7%)
Dietary Fiber: 1g (4%)
Sugars: 20g

Cholesterol: 0mg (0%)
Sodium: 0mg (0%)
Potassium: 270mg (8%)
Protein: 1g

Vitamin A: (30%)
Vitamin C: (25%)
Calcium: (2%)
Iron: (4%)


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Health benefits of watermelons

Watermelon’s high levels of lycopene are very effective at protecting cells from damage and may help lower the risk of heart disease, according to a study at Purdue University. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that watermelon extracts helped reduce hypertension and lower blood pressure in obese adults.

Watermelon may be especially important for older women. A study published in Menopause found that postmenopausal women, a group known to have increased aortic stiffness, who took watermelon extract for six weeks saw decreased blood pressure and arterial stiffness compared to those who did not take watermelon extract. The authors of the study attributed the benefits to citrulline and arginine.

Arginine can help improve blood flow and may help reduce the accumulation of excess fat.


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Anti-inflammatory properties

The lycopene in watermelon makes it an anti-inflammatory fruit. Lycopene is an inhibitor for various inflammatory processes and also works as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals. Additionally, the watermelon contains choline, which helps keep chronic inflammation down.

Hydration

Watermelons help with overall hydration, and that is a great thing. We can get 20-30 percent of our fluid needs through our diet alone, and foods like these certainly help. Additionally, their juice is full of good electrolytes. This can even help prevent heat stroke.

Digestion

The watermelon contains fiber, which encourages a healthy digestive tract and helps keep you regular.

Skin and hair benefits

Vitamin A is stellar for your skin, and just a cup of watermelon contains nearly one-quarter of your recommended daily intake of it. Vitamin A helps keep skin and hair moisturized, and it also encourages healthy growth of new collagen and elastin cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Vitamin C is also beneficial in this regard, as it promotes healthy collagen growth.

Muscle soreness & athletic performance

Watermelon-loving athletes are in luck: drinking watermelon juice before an intense workout helps reduce next-day muscle soreness and heart rate, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This can be attributed to watermelon’s amino acids citrulline and arginine, which help improve circulation.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that watermelon’s citrulline may also help improve athletic performance. Study participants who took citrulline supplements saw a boosted performance with more power production in high-intensity exercise like cycling and sprinting.

Cancer prevention

Like other fruits and vegetables, watermelons may be helpful in reducing the risk of cancer through their antioxidant properties. Lycopene in particular has been linked to reducing prostate cancer cell proliferation, according to the National Cancer Institute.


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Consumption of watermelons

Watermelons are a sweet, popular fruit of summer, usually consumed fresh in slices, diced in mixed fruit salads, or as juice. Watermelon juice can be blended with other fruit juices or made into wine. The seeds have a nutty flavor and can be dried and roasted, or ground into flour. In China, the seeds are eaten at Chinese New Year celebrations. In Vietnamese culture, watermelon seeds are consumed during the Vietnamese New Year’s holiday, Tết, as a snack. Watermelon rinds may be eaten, but most people avoid eating them due to their unappealing flavor. They are used for making pickles, sometimes eaten as a vegetable, stir-fried or stewed. Citrullis lanatus, variety Caffer, grows wild in the Kalahari Desert, where it is known as tsamma. The fruits are used by the San people and wild animals for both water and nourishment, allowing survival on a diet of tsamma for six weeks. In Southern Russia, they are sometimes preserved by fermenting them together with sauerkraut, much like the apples.

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