The origin of watermelons

THE ORIGINS of some crops are well-known. Maize derives from a wild grass rising within the Balsas river valley, in what’s now Mexico. Rice descends from one other grass, native to the Yangzi basin. Potatoes hail from the border between Peru and Bolivia. Apples hint again to the woodlands of southern Kazakhstan. Some crops’ beginnings, although, are misplaced within the mists of time—amongst them these of the watermelon.

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That watermelons’ ancestors are African has lengthy been clear. Archaeological proof from Libya and Egypt suggests they have been cultivated there hundreds of years in the past, and the continent is house to seven species and quite a few subspecies of vegetation labeled in the identical genus, Citrullus, because the cultivated crop. However solely now has a probable candidate been nailed down. An examination of obtainable genetic knowledge about members of Citrullus, printed within the Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences by Susanne Renner of Washington College, in St Louis, and Guillaume Chomicki of the College of Sheffield, in Britain, has led them to conclude that watermelons have been domesticated from a subspecies referred to as the Sudanese Kordofan melon, which grows in Darfur, the western a part of Sudan.

Tellingly, this is without doubt one of the few wild members of Citrullus that’s bland, slightly than excruciatingly bitter to the human palate. That ties in with a reinterpretation by the 2 researchers of a 4,450-year-old Egyptian tomb portray (pictured). The earlier assumption had been that early cultivated watermelons have been too bitter to eat uncooked, and would thus should be cooked and sweetened for consumption. This portray, although, exhibits what seems to be a stripped watermelon being served uncooked at a desk embellished by lotus flowers.

A model of this text was printed on-line on June 1st 2021

This text appeared within the Science & know-how part of the print version beneath the headline “Sweetness and lightweight”

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