MELON (Late Lat. melo, shortened form of Gr. a kind of gourd; nr)\ov, apple, and Trtiruv, ripe), Cucumis melo, a polymorphic species of the order Cucurbitaceae, including numerous varieties. 1 The melon is an annual trailing herb with palmately-lobed leaves, and bears tendrils by means of which it is readily trained over trellises, etc. It is monoecious, ?Z having male and female flowers on the same plant; the flowers have deeply five-lobed campanulate corollas and three stamens. Naudin observed that in some varieties (e.g. of Cantaloups) fertile stamens sometimes occur in the female flowers. It is a native of south Asia " from the foot of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin," 2 where it grows spontaneously, but is cultivated in the temperate and warm regions of the whole world. It is variable both in diversity of foliage and habit, but much more so in the fruit, which in some varieties is no larger than an olive, while in others it rivals the gourd (Cucurbila maxima). The fruit is globular, ovoid, spindle-shaped, or serpent-like, netted or smooth-skinned, ribbed or furrowed, variously coloured externally, with white, green, or orange flesh when ripe, scented or scentless, sweet or insipid, bitter or even nauseous, etc. Like the gourd, the melon undergoes strange metamorphoses by crossing its varieties, though the latter preserve their characters when alone. The offspring of all crossings are fertile. As remarkable cases of sudden changes produced by artificially crossing races, M. Naudin records that in 1859 the offspring of the wild melons m. sauvage de I'lnde (C. melo agrestis) and m. s. d'Afrique, le petit m. de Figari bore different fruits from their parents, the former being ten to twelve times their size, ovoid, white-skinned, more or less scented, and with reddish flesh; though another individual bore fruits no larger than a nut. The offspring of m. de Figari after being crossed bore fruits of the serpent-melon. On the other hand, the serpent-melon was made to bear ovoid and reticulated fruit.
Naudin thinks it is probable that the culture of the melon in Asia is as ancient as that of all other alimentary vegetables. The Egyptians grew it, or at least inferior races of melon, which were either indigenous or introduced from Asia. The Romans and doubtless the Greeks were familiar with it, though some forms may have been described as cucumbers. Columella seems to refer to the serpent-melon in the phrase ut coluber . . . venire cubat flexp. Pliny describes them as pepones (xix. 23 to xx. 6) and Columella as melones (xi. 2, 53). The melon began to be extensively cultivated in France in 1629, according to Olivier de Serres. Gerard (Herball, 772) figured and described in 1597 several kinds of melons or pompions, but he has included gourds under the same name.
The origin of some of the chief modern races, such as " Cantaloups," " Dudaim," and probably the netted sorts, is due to Persia and the neighbouring Caucasian regions. The first of these was brought to Rome from Armenia in the 16th century, and supplies the chief sorts grown for the French markets; but many others are doubtless artificial productions of west Europe.
The water-melon (Citrullus vulgaris) is a member of a different genus of the same order. It has been cultivated for its cool refreshing fruit since the earliest times in Egypt and the Orient, and was known before the Christian era in southern Europe and Asia. The melon requires artificial heat to grow it to perfection, the 1 For a full account of the species of Cucumis and of the varieties of melon by Charles Naudin, see Annales des sciences naturelles, er 4, vol. xi. p. 34 (1859).
2 Naudin, loc. cit. pp. 39, 76.
rock and cantaloup varieties succeeding with a bottom heat of 70 and an atmospheric temperature of 75, rising with Sun heat to 80, and the Persian varieties requiring a bottom heat of 75, gradually increasing to 80, and an atmospheric temperature ranging from 75 to 80 when the fruit is swelling, as much Sun heat as the plants can bear being allowed at all times. The melon grows best in rich turfy loam, somewhat heavy, with which a little well-rotted dung, especially that of pigeons or fowls, should be used, in the proportion of one-fifth mixed in the compost of loam. Melons are grown on hotbeds of fermenting manure, when the soil should be about a foot in thickness, or in pits heated either by hot water or fermenting matter, or in houses heated by hot water, in which case the soil bed should be 15 or 1 8 in. thick. The fermenting materials should be well prepared, and, since the heat has to be kept up by linings, it is a good plan to introduce one or two layers of faggots in building up the bed. A mixture of dung and leaves gives a more subdued but more durable heat.
For all ordinary purposes February is early enough for sowing the first crop, as well-flavoured fruits can scarcely be looked for before May. The seeds may be sown singly in 3-in. pots in a mixture of leaf-mould with a little loam, the pots being plunged in a bottom heat of 75 to 80, and as near the glass as possible, in order that the young plants may not be drawn up. The hill or ridge of soil should be about a foot in thickness, the rest of the surface being afterwards made up nearly to the same level. If the fruiting-bed is not ready when the roots have nearly filled the pots, they must be shifted into 4-inch pots, for they must not get starved or pot-bound. Two or three plants are usually planted in a mound or ridge of soil placed in the centre of each light, and the rest of the surface is covered over to a similar depth as soon as the roots have made their way through the mound.
The melon being one of those plants which produce distinct male and female flowers, it is necessary to its fertility that both should be produced, and that the pollen of the male flower should, either naturally by insect agency, or artificially by the cultivator's manipulation, be conveyed to the stigma of the female flower; this setting of the fruit is often done by stripping a male flower of its corolla, and inverting it in the centre of the fruit-bearing flower. After the fruit has set and has grown to the size of an egg, it should be preserved from contact with the soil by placing it on a piece of tile or slate; or if grown on a trellis by a little swinging wooden shelf, just large enough to hold it. In either case the material used should be tilted a little to one side, so as to permit water to drain away. Before the process of ripening commences, the roots should have a sufficient supply of moisture, so that none may be required from that time until the fruit is cut.
When the melon is grown in a house there should be a good depth of drainage over the tank or other source of bottom heat, and on this should be placed turfs, grass side downwards, below the soil, which should not be less than 15 and need not be more than 18 in. in thickness. The compost should be made moderately firm, and only half the bed should be made up at first, the rest being added as the roots require it. The melon may also be grown in large pots, supplied with artificial manure or manure water. The stems may be trained up the trellis in the usual way, or the rafters of a pine stove may be utilized for the purpose. If the trellis is constructed in panels about the width of the lights, it can be taken down and conveniently stowed away when not in use.
The presence of too much moisture either in the atmosphere or in the soil is apt to cause the plants to damp off at the neck, but the evil may be checked by applying a little fresh-slaked lime round the stem of the plant.
Melons are liable to the attack of red spider, which are best removed by syringing with rain-water, and prevented by keeping a fairly humid atmosphere; green or black fly should also be watched for and removed by fumigation with tobacco smoke or by " vaporizing."
The varieties of melon are continually receiving additions, and as newer varieties spring into favour, so the older ones drop out of cultivation. A great deal depends on getting the varieties true to name, as they are very liable to get cross-fertilized by insect agency. Some of the best at present are :
Scarlet-fleshed. Blenheim Orange, Frogmore Orange, Invincible, Button's Scarlet, and Triumph.
White-fleshed. Golden Orange, Hero of Lockinge, Longleat Perfection, Royal Favourite.
Green-fleshed. British Queen, Epicure, Exquisite, Monarch, Ringleader.
The market-gardeners round Paris and other parts of France chiefly cultivate varieties of Cantaloup melon known as the Prescott hatif a chassis and Prescott fond blanc both excellent in flavour. The plants are grown in frames on hotbeds, and only one large fruit is allowed to mature on each plant. If secured early in the season say in June from 25 to 35 francs can be obtained for each fruit in the Paris markets; later fruits, however, drop down to 2 francs each, or even less when there is a glut (see J. Weathers, French Market-Gardening).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)