Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a member of the Cucurbitaceae plant family. The latter contains a number of familiar garden vegetables including cucumber, squash, pumpkin and musk melon. Members of this family are monecious, meaning they bear separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The edible part of a watermelon is known as a pepo, which is a ripened ovary (fruit) with watery flesh and a hard rind. From a usage standpoint, watermelon is consumed as a fruit, but it still is classified as a vegetable.
Aptly named, watermelon is 92 percent water and was first used by ancients as a source of water. Watermelon’s history dates back 5000 years to southern Africa where the tough, drought-tolerant ancestor of watermelon thrived. Although we don’t know the exact identity of this plant, we do know it was prized for its ability to store water and was used by indigenous people in the Kalahari Desert region. Unlike today’s watermelon, it had very bitter flesh. Speculation exists, in addition to taking advantage of its water content, people endemic to the region roasted and ate its seeds as a source of nourishment.