What is the botany of cantaloupes?

The true cantaloupe is Cucumis melo variety cantaloupensis but these are not the melons grown in the United States, but are medium-sized fruits with rough, warty or scaly surface, not netted, grown in Europe. The melons known as cantaloupes in this country are Cucumis melo variety reticulatus which includes all the netted melons (they are reticulate) and includes what we call cantaloupes and also Persians and other netted muskmelons. Cantaloupes belong to the cucurbit family, Cucurbitaceae, which includes squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons, gourds, West Indian gherkins and others.

The genus Cucumis comprises nearly 40 species. They are annual or perennial trailing herbs, the male flowers in clusters, rarely solitary; the female flowers clustered or occasionally solitary; the inner floral envelope is wheel-shaped and five-parted; stamens (male organs) three and free; pistil (female organ) with three to five placentae and an equal number of stigmas, the part that receives the pollen; and fruits usually but not always fleshy, globular, pubescent or armed with prickles, and containing numerous seeds.

C. melo is a highly variable species with quite a large number of forms; flowers may be male, female or perfect, that is, both sexes in one flower; the vines have flowers of both sexes, usually separate on the same plant; stems are soft-hairy to smooth, with fine grooves or angled; leaves are orbicular or ovate to kidney-shaped, usually five-angled, sometimes shallowly three-to seven-lobed, hairy or somewhat rough to the touch, 3 to 5 inches across; flowers 0.5 to 1 inch across, the staminate clustered, the pistillate solitary, smooth or sutured, netted or partially netted, at maturity usually yellow, yellow-green or greenish-yellow seeds oval or flattish, 5 to 15 millimeters long.

All forms of C. melo hybridize freely and there are so many intermediate forms that attempts at classification appear rather meaningless. "C. melo," says DeCandolle, "constitutes a species which comprehends an extraordinary number of varieties."

C. melo reticulatus, the netted or nutmeg melon, including cantaloupes, is described as medium in size, surface netted, with shallow sutures; flresh green to deep salmon-orange in color, but mostly salmon orange in commercial cantaloupes.

Seelig, R.A. 1973September. Fruit & Vegetable Facts & Pointers: Cantaloupes. United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, 777 14th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 2005

Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012.