Melons are high-value products in some parts of the world. Shown here is a small specimen in a Nakatsugawa, Japan supermarket, priced (in 2006) at US$25, next to a $15 apple. In most places, melons are more reasonably priced and are seasonally abundant. High in provitamin A, many have rinds robust enough to handle long distance travel. The scope and complexity of flavors, sizes, flesh colors and textures makes the melon one of the most interesting of all fruits. (Karen Rei Pease)

melons are based on seed carried out of Africa centuries ago (probably by camel caravans moving across the Sahara to Pharaonic Egypt). The true wealth of its diversity was not only left behind, it remains untapped and unappreciated; at least part of it almost certainly remains undiscovered.

This wealth of genetic diversity results from the fact that the melon is perhaps the most horticulturally plastic of all fruits. Few others, if any, can match the range of extreme types that have already been selected. Consider the following range of fascinating features:

Size Some melons found in different parts of the world can weigh as much as 30 kg, so large a normal person can hardly lift one; others are no larger than small plums. A type in Australia is the size of a grape.

Shape Many melons are not round. One, for example, is about 3 cm in diameter and a meter long, coiling in all directions like a spastic snake. An Algerian type splits into sections, like a half-opened tulip blossom.

Color Melons can span at least half the colors of the rainbow: there are types with skins that are red, green, yellow, or mottled; and types with flesh that is red, orange, green, yellow, or white.

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