Source: Wikipedia

In addition to mangoes, the summer fruit in Taiwan, is probably watermelon. Regardless of whether its flesh is red or yellow, big or small in size, each of them have their own supporters here; but watermelon is actually not native to Taiwan.

Watermelon is an annual herbaceous vine in the Cucurbitaceae family, Citrullus genus. It is the third largest fruit in the world. At present, the world’s largest watermelon producer is China, accounting for two-thirds of the world’s output; followed by Turkey and Iran. Although Taiwan’s watermelon production is not high in the world, the production of watermelon seedlings from Known you (農友) Seed CO. LTD. account for more than 80% of the global market, hence it is a veritable “watermelon king”.

The first people to grow watermelons should be the Egyptians in the second millennium BC. Some people think that it may be derived from the desert gourd native to Africa; while other people say that watermelon came from the wild ancestors of Central South Africa near the Kalahari Desert. Which one is the ancestor of watermelon? Maybe you have to ask scientists to study it over and over!

Watermelon originating in Africa spread to Greece and Italy around the fifth century BC; then from Europe to India, then to Southeast Asia, West Asia, and Xinjiang, and then to China during the Five Dynasties. As for when the watermelon arrived in Taiwan, it may have been since the time of Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga), but there are written records from 1717 onwards. Early planting was mainly in Miaoli, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Pingtung in the west. After 1969, watermelon cultivation began in eastern Taiwan. At present, Hualien County has the largest watermelon production in Taiwan, followed by Yunlin County and Tainan City. Originally, farmers planted watermelons in fields. Since the 1960s, due to the guidance and promotion of Mr. Chen Wenyu(陳文郁) from Fengshan Tropical Horticultural Experiment Branch and Mr. Wang Liangxiong(王良雄) of the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, they began to grow watermelons in the riverbed of Zhuoshui River. Planting watermelons on the riverbeds, due to the fertile new soil brought by the upper reaches of the river, farmers can get a satisfactory harvest without applying much fertilizer. It has become the favorite of melon farmers by the Zhuoshui River; however, Taiwan has many typhoons in summer, in order to avoid loss due to the typhoon, melon farmers will go to the river bed to harvest watermelons before it hits. As a result, news of melon farmers being trapped in the riverbed is often heard during the rainy season and typhoon season.

Have you eaten seedless watermelon? Seedless watermelon is treated with colchicine to prevent the cells from undergoing meiosis to produce tetraploid, and then tetraploid watermelon is mated with normal watermelon (diploid) to produce triploid watermelon. Because triploids cannot undergo meiosis to produce seeds, they become seedless watermelons! Although bananas also cannot bear seeds because they are triploids, bananas are naturally triploids, while watermelons must be made artificially.

The watermelon, which is the opposite of the seedless watermelon, should be the “melon seed watermelon”. The melon seeds are the refreshments that everyone eats during the New Year and Holidays. The earliest record is “Taiping Huanyu Ji”(太平寰宇記) in the early Northern Song Dynasty, which means that everyone has started to eat melon seeds no later than the Song Dynasty. The common melon seeds in Taiwan are black, but there are red melon seeds in the mainland! The red melon seeds have a longer history than the black melon seeds. Because they are red, they are also known as the “happy melon seeds”. Since the focus of melon seed watermelon is on melon seeds, the flesh of melon seed watermelon is mostly bland and tasteless. Sunflower seeds are from sunflowers and pumpkin seeds are from pumpkins. They have nothing to do with watermelon.

Have you heard the saying “Watermelons are afraid of ghosts’’? This sentence comes from Wanbaoli in Houlong Township, Miaoli County. Why do people say “Watermelons are afraid of ghosts’’? If the watermelon is not well taken care of after it is planted, it will either fail to grow or grow poorly. Saying “Watermelons are afraid of ghosts’’ is to remind farmers to take good care of watermelons! The hometown of watermelon in Miaoli is Wanbao, but in November 2008, Wanbao was almost expropriated as an industrial zone. After three years of petition, the Ministry of the Interior finally rejected the “Houlong Science and Technology Park Farmland Change Case” in April 2011. The farmers can finally continue to grow watermelons. Now Wanbao holds the “Wanbao Watermelon Festival’’ every June, so you can go there and eat watermelon when you have time.

At present, there are six common watermelon varieties in Taiwan. The big watermelon has Huabao, and the small watermelon has yellow fleshed honey phoenix(蜜鳳) and new orchid(新蘭), red fleshed sweet honey(甜美人), Yinglun(英倫), Huiling(慧玲) and so on. When I was young, the memory of Xiaoyu Watermelon(小玉西瓜) originated from Japan, but in fact, Taiwan no longer grows Xiaoyu Watermelon anymore! But because the name Xiaoyu Watermelon has long become a nickname for the round small watermelon, everyone who sees the little watermelon says it is “Xiaoyu Watermelon”! In addition to being rich in water (more than 90%), watermelon also contains vitamins A and C. It is a good heat-relief product. However, some people eat watermelon at night, they will be kept awake with diarrhea all night long. Therefore, there is a Taiwanese proverb saying, “A person who eats watermelon at dusk shows symptoms that night”! Chinese medicine believes that watermelon is sweet and cold, so if people who eat watermelon will have diarrhea, it is better to eat less or not to eat it at all!



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葉綠舒 Susan Yeh

黑手老師、科普作者、資深書蟲 Educator, popular science writer and bookworm.