The fruit grown commercially in the United States marketed as “cantaloupe” (Cucumis melo ‘cantaloupensis’) is actually muskmelon (Cucumis melo ‘reticulatus’), though both fruits are members of the same family. The cucurbitaceae family also includes squash, gourds, pumpkins, watermelon, and cucumbers. Cross-pollination within the family does not result in poor melon quality, as an old wives’ tale suggests, but results in seeds to produce an entirely new fruit.
Curcurbits may have originated in the south of Mexico and Central America, but cantaloupe was originally cultivated in the Near East including Turkey, China, India, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. Cantaloupe was grown by Native Americans near Montreal in the 1500s and made its way to the U.S. East Coast by the mid-1700s. Commercial marketing of cantaloupe did not begin until in the 1870s.
The average American eats almost 9 pounds of cantaloupe annually and much of this fruit is grown in California, which leads the country in production.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension, PennState Extension, University of Illinois Extension.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
While there are many varieties and hybrids of cantaloupe developed for size, sweetness, and hardiness during shipping, types aregenerally separated into Western or Eastern Shipper.
Western varieties include Hale’s Best, Sweet n’ Early, Hearts of Gold, Hy-Mark, Top Mark, Charmel, Charentais, Galia, Impac, Gold Rush, Navigator, Gold Express, Oro Rico, Archer, Gold Express, and Durango. These varieties are usually grown in western states and shipped to markets across the country, though they can be grown anywhere with appropriate conditions. These types are generally harvested at half-slip, when the fruit has only partially pulled away from the stem and can continue to ripen during packing and shipping.
Eastern varieties include Allstar, Ambrosia, Athena, Burpee Hybrid, Cordele, Durango, Earligold, Primo, Pulstar, Staticoy, Superstar, Sweet Dream, and Tasty Sweet. These varieties are usually grown for local markets and do not ship long distances.
References: North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension, Oregon State University, PennState Extension, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
PESTS & DISEASE
Young cantaloupe plants are particularly vulnerable to aphids as well as striped or spotted cucumber beetles, which carry bacterial wilt. Other common pests include squash vine borers, seed corn maggots, rootknot nematodes, leafminers, and rindworms (cucumber beetle larvae). Cucumber beetles are active in early spring above temperatures of 70°F. Later in the growing cycle, pickleworms become a problem as their larvae burrow into the developing fruit to feed.
In addition to bacterial wilt, cantaloupe is susceptible to fusarium wilt, various types of mosaic, alternaria leaf blight, bacterial fruit blotch, phytophtora blight, and anthracnose. Diseases particular to fruit-sizing include powdery mildew, downy mildew, gummy stem blight, and alternaria stem blight. Application of pesticides, fumigation, crop inspection, careful selection of disease-resistant varieties, and crop rotation are all effective in combating these common pests and diseases.
References: North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension, PennState Extension, Purdue University Extension.