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Cucumis melo L. 1753 Reticulatus Group
pronounced: KOO-koo-miss MELL-oh
(Cucurbitaceae – the squash family)
common names: Rockmelon, Cantaloupe, Muskmelon
Cucumis is the Latin word for cucumber, and melo is from the Greek μηλον (mélon), any apple-shaped fruit. Reticulatus is Latin for ‘netted’, and refers to the outside appearance of the fruit. Cantaloupe was named for the commune Cantalupo in Sabina, in the Sabine Hills near Tivoli, Italy, a summer residence of the Pope. 'Muskmelon' refers to the musky smell of the ripe fruit.
Cucumis is a genus of twining, tendril-bearing plants that includes the cucumber, many melons, and Cucumis anguria, the West Indian gherkin. The fruit known in Australia as the rockmelon, and in the USA as the cantaloupe or, more often, merely as melon, is really a muskmelon – the true cantaloupes (Cantalupensis Group) have a hard, very rough, warty rind, and are seldom grown commercially in either the USA or Australia. The muskmelon originated in Persia (Iran) and adjacent areas. There was probably a secondary centre including the north-west provinces of India, also Kashmir and Afghanistan. Although truly wild forms of Cucumis melo have not been found, several related wild species have been found there.
A fruit shown among the funerary offerings in an Egyptian picture of around 2400 BC is believed by many to be a muskmelon. The Greeks seem to have known the fruit by the 3rd century BC, and it was certainly known in the 1st century AD in Rome. The Greek physician Galen wrote about its medicinal properties in the 2nd century, and by the 3rd century Roman writers were giving directions for growing it and preparing it with spices for eating. It seems to have been introduced into China from the regions west of the Himalayas at around the same time. The cultivation of the muskmelon spread westward through the Mediterranean region in the Middle Ages, and it appears to have been quite common in Spain by the 15th century. Columbus carried seeds on his second voyage, and planted them on Isabela Island in 1494. By the end of 16th century the Spaniards had introduced it into many parts of the Americas, and it was grown in the first English colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts.
Developing from the typical 5-petaled yellow flower of the cucumber family, the fruit grows to a round melon with firm, orange, moderately sweet flesh and a thin, reticulated, light brown rind. There are also varieties with redder and yellower flesh. The fruit range in weight from about 500 g to 5 kg, and are usually between about 12 – 20 cm in diameter.
Rockmelon is usually eaten as a fresh fruit, or in a fruit salad, or as a dessert with ice cream, or it is juiced. Because its surface can contain harmful bacteria, mould and Salmonella growth, it is advisable to wash and scrub a melon thoroughly before cutting and consumption. It should not be kept in the refrigerator for too long after cutting (3 days is about the limit), to prevent the risk of bacterial pathogens.
There is a great variety of flavour among rockmelons, and poor-flavoured melons frequently occur. Also, post-harvesting practices include treatment with a sodium hypochlorite or bleach wash to prevent mould and Salmonella growth. This masks the scent of the melon, and makes it difficult fot the shopper to gauge the ripeness and the potential flavour. Buying rockmelons can be a chancy process!
The Cucumber Moth Diaphania indica feeds on this plant.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2013
Page last updated 24th December 2017