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Watermelon: summer favorite has ancient roots

August 3 was designated as National Watermelon Day. This popular fruit, which is 92 percent water, is a favorite food, especially in the heat of summer, developed from its ancestors 5,000 years ago in South Africa.

People of the Kalahari Desert, which covers much of Botswana, and parts of Namibia and South Africa, thrived on these melons as a water source. Unlike today’s watermelons, the melons then had a very bitter flesh and was not red inside. The seeds were roasted and eaten as nourishment. It wasn’t very long before the watermelon found its way to Egypt.

Ancient plant breeders made great improvements, developing a sweeter melon that became a favorite food as well as a source of water. It continued to travel.

By the 7th century India was cultivating watermelons. By the 10th century the melon had reached China, which is now the world’s largest grower of watermelons (the U.S.A. ranks seventh). By the 17th century watermelon was widely planted throughout Europe.

European ...

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