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Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III
5 HORNED MELON
Horned melon (Cucumis metulifer) is one African fruit that has broken into international commerce, albeit recently, and largely on its looks alone. Until you see one, it really is difficult to appreciate its appearance. One author described it as “an extraordinarily attractive object, simultaneously ugly and beautiful.” Others use words from “cute” to “horrifying.”
The unique appearance of today’s horned melon1 is what sells the fruit in increasing numbers worldwide. It has moved beyond curiosity to become fairly common in many upscale markets, often because people like to eat it but more often for its outstanding (and long-lasting) visual qualities. In fact, from a global perspective, horned melon is as much an ornament as a food.2
This surprising success became possible when, in 1982, an adventurous New Zealand couple began cultivating this formerly obscure and essentially wild African fruit. Among its genetic diversity, John and Sharyn Morris found a horned-melon specimen whose fruits were breathtakingly brilliant. They learned how to produce it on a commercial basis. They designed special shipping boxes. And within two years they were exporting their Kiwano® to Japan, where it aroused intense curiosity and sold readily.
Soon fruits were being flown to the United States, and then they began arriving by container loads on ships. In all U.S. history, few fruits have been heralded with more hyperbole. One fruiterer who markets over a hundred specialty crops reported that, “Horned melons created more furor and generated more curiosity than any produce item we have helped introduce to the American scene.” Moreover, American farmers started to grow their own. Israel too began commercial production, and now sells fruit to Europe under the name Melano®. It is now also grown along the Mediterranean, and Kenya too is exporting these strange-looking fruits. Most are still shipped by air and, despite the high costs passed on to consumers, they sell.
Other common names include jelly melon, métulon (France), and the trademarked names Kiwano® (New Zealand) and Melano® (Israel).
Such uses should not be dismissed just because they don’t feed the buyer; the desire for ornamental plants around the house can put good money into a growers’ pocket. After all, the biggest use for the nearly $200 million pumpkin crop in the United States is the hollow Halloween jack-o-lantern; the flower industry is of course worth billions.