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Cucurbit Genetics Cooperative Report 14:43-44 (article 14) 1991

Nomenclature of Cucumis melo L.

H. M. Munger and R. W. Robinson

Department of Plant Breeding, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 (first author); Department of Horticultural Sciences, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva, N.Y 14456 (second author)

The Common Name of Cucumis melo L. The question has arisen recently as to whether the common name of the species should be "melon" or "muskmelon". Advocates of the latter say that "melon" may be misconstrued as referring to watermelon. On the other hand, nearly all precedent in the literature and in general usage favors "melon" as the common name. Bailey's Cyclopedia of Horticulture (1914) and Manual of Cultivated Plants (1949) give "melon" as the common name as does Hortus III published by the Bailey Hortorium. Nearly all textbooks give "melon" as the first or only common name for the species, as do Smith and Welch (8). Whitaker and Davis (10) give "musk-melon" as the common name, but on the same page they write about "winter melon", "pickling melon", "snake melon", etc., implying that "melon" is really the general name for the species.

As to confusion with watermelon, Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai, is called "watermelon" in numerous publications, and we find no instance of its being shortened to "melon" in discussions about it. This distinction between the species is made on menus, supermarket signs, and in the produce trade.

In view of these considerations, the National Muskmelon Research Group voted in November 1990 to change its name to National Melon Research Group and endorsed the statement that "The preferred and usual common name for the species Cucumis melo is "melon", while muskmelons or cantaloupes are a group within the species".

Groups Within Cucumis melo. Many monographs and texts follow the groupings or "tribes" of Naudin (5). These have usually been called "botanical varieties", but Smith and Welch (8) called them "groups", stating that the former term applies only to plants in the wild. Hortus III likewise calls them "groups". There are some truly wild melons, but most are known only in cultivation. Still others apparently grow as wild melon after escaping from cultivation, e.g. C. melo chito and C. melo dudaim in the southern United States. The question of which to call groups and which to call botanical varieties can be avoided by writing trinomials as zoologists do and Pangalo did (6).

One problem with Naudin's classification, as he himself recognized, is that intermediate forms are produced from the ready hybridization between groups. This is seen today in melons coming from crosses between reticulatus and cantalupensis. Another problem is that some melons grown widely in Asia do not fit any of Naudin's categories. Others which do fit have been given different Latin names, especially in India. The ten tribes of Naudin (5) were reduced to seven groups by Whitaker and Davis (10). We propose to simplify the grouping further by combining cantalupensis with reticulatus and chito with dudaim. We need to add a group, for which momordica seems to be the accepted name, to include the widely-grown snap melon of India. Our attempt at a revision of groups within the species is as follows:

1. C. melo agrestis Naud. Wild types with slender vines and small, inedible fruit. Probably synonymous with C. melo callosus and C. melo trigonus.

2. C. melon cantalupensis Naud. Cantaloupe or muskmelon. Medium size fruits with netted, warty, or scaly surface, flesh usually orange but sometimes green, flavor aromatic or musty. Fruit dehiscent at maturity. Usually andromonoecious.

This group includes Naudin's C. melo reticulatus which differed from C. melo cantalupensis mainly in having a netted surface. Combining these groups solves the problem of naming intermediate types. It has been difficult to decide which name to give the combined group. The majority of melons in it were probably in the reticulatus group. On the other hand, these netted melons are usually called cantaloupes by U.S. growers, shippers, and consumers. After resisting this inaccurate terminology for several decades, we concede defeat and suggest cantalupensis for the combined group. Naudin's C. melo saccharinus, not usually mentioned in recent publications, appears to be similar enough for inclusion in this group.

3. C. melo inodorus Naud. Winter melons. Smooth or wrinkled surfaces with flesh usually white or green and lacking musky odor. Usually larger, later in maturity, and longer-keeping than cantalupensis, and not dehiscent at maturity. Usually andromonoecious.

4. C. melo flexuousus Naud. Snake melon. Synonym of snake cucumber, a common name causing confusion and therefore to be avoided. Fruit long and slender, used when immature as an alternative to cucumber. Monoecious. C. melo utilisimus or long melon described in literature from India is considered by some to be synonymous with flexuosus (2,3), but the original description by Roxburgh (7) was more like common.

5. C. melo common Mak. Pickling melon, sweet melon. Small fruit with smooth skin, white flesh, early maturity, and usually with little sweetness or odor. However, some melons in this group have high sugar content when mature and are eaten like apples, rind included. Vines of both types have similar appearance and have in common resistance to cucumber mosaic. Andromonoecious.

6. C. melo chito and C. melo dudaim Naud. Mango melon, vine peach and other similar names for the former; pomegranate melon, Queen Anne's Pocket melon for the latter. Distinction between these two groups is not clear from published descriptions. The dudaim melon collected by Wall (6) and used at Cornell as a source of monoecious flowering, does not have the fragrance attributed to this group. Bailey (1) mentions that certain accessions of dudaim lack fragrance, eliminating thereby the main distinction between it and C. melo chito. Further study may reveal some clearer differences between the groups or alternatively that they should be combined.

7. C. melo momordica. 'Phut' (2) or snap melon (2). Grown in India and other Asian countries and distinct from any other group. Flesh is white or pale orange, low in sugar, and mealy. The smooth surface of the fruit cracks as maturity approaches and the fruit disintegrates when barely ripe. PI 371795 and 414723 belong to this group and have provided important resistance, such as to aphids, zucchini yellow mosaic, and watermelon mosaic. We do not know whether the extreme susceptibility to cucumber mosaic in these PIs is characteristic of the entire group. Roxburgh's description of Cucumis momordica corresponds to this group (7). Most melons in this group are monoecious.

Naudin (5) listed C. melo acidulus with a description in some respects like momordica (i.e. breaking into pieces when ripening) and in some respects like flexuousus (fruits similar to cucumber). Recent publications have omitted this name when listing Naudin's grouping. Clarification is needed.

This tentative revision of melon groups is presented with the hope that it will stimulate discussion and thought. We urgently request comments on it, particularly on the name for group 2, the questions about C. melo utillisimus and acidulus, and distinctions or lack thereof between chito and dudaim.

Literature Cited

  1. Bailey, L. H. 1943. Species of Cucurbita. Gentes Herbarium 6 (Fasc. 5): 255-322.
  2. Dhillon, N. P. S. 1989. Personal communication.
  3. Cutta, O. P. 1990. Personal communication.
  4. Matthew, Cubha M., P. K. Gopalakrishnan, and K. V. Peter. 1986. Compatibility among Cucumis melo, varieties inodorus, common, flexuousus, momordica, and utilissimus. Cucurbit Genetics Coop. Report 9: 78-79
  5. Naudin, C. 1859. Review des cucurbitacees cultivees on Museum en. Ann. Sci. Natl. Ser. 4 Bot. 12: 79-164.
  6. Pangalo, K. I. 1930. Critical review of basic literature on the systematics, geography, and origin of cultivated and partially wild-growing melon. Bull. Appl. Botany, Plant Breeding 23: 397-442. (Translated from Russian).
  7. Roxburgh, W. 1814. Flora Hortus Bengalensis 3: 720-721.
  8. Smith, P. G. and J. E. Welch. 1964. Nomenclature of vegetables and condiment herbs grown in the United States. Proc. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 84: 535-548.
  9. Wall, J. R. 1967. Correlated inheritance of sex expression and fruit shape in Cucumis. Euphytica 16: 199-208.
  10. Whitaker, T. W. and G. N. Davis. 1962. Cucurbits: Botany, Cultivation, and Utilization. Interscience Publishers, New York.
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