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Sturtevant, Edible plants of the world, 1919
Cucumis (Sturtevant, 1919)

Cucumis anguria Linn.


West Indies. This is the wild cucumber of Hughes. It is a native of the West Indies, and the green fruit is eaten there but it is far inferior to the common cucumber. Sloane says the fruit is of a pale green color, oval, as big as a walnut, having many short, blunt, thick tubercles, sharper than those of other cucumbers, and that within the pulp are a great many small seeds like those of other cucumbers. It is cultivated in Jamaica, but oftener the fruits are collected from the wild plants. In France, it is called Concoinbre arada and is sometimes grown in gardens, the fruit being called sweet and excellent when grown under good circumstances of soil. This vegetable is described by Marcgravius in Brazil 1648, the name Cucumis sylvestris Brazileae indicating an uncultivated plant. Ten years later, Piso also described it as a wild plant of Brazil under the name guarervaoba or cucumer asinius and gives a figure. It has also been found in the Antilles and. in continental tropical and subtropical America, New Granada and South Florida. It is not mentioned as cultivated in Jamaica by Sloane, 1696. Its fruit is mentioned as being used in soups and pickles, apparently gathered from the wild plant, by Long, 1774, Titford, 1812, and Lunan, 1814. It is, however, cultivated in French Guiana and Antiqua. Although described by Ray, 1686 and 1704, and grown by Miller in his botanic garden in 1755, it yet does not appear to be in the vegetable gardens of England in 1807, although it was known in the gardens of the United States in 1806. In France, it was under cultivation in 1824 and 1829 but apparently was abandoned and was reintroduced by Vilmorin in 1858.

Cucumis longipes Hook. f.

The fruit tastes like a cucumber.

Cucumis melo Linn.


Old World tropics. Naudin divides the varieties of melon into ten sections, which differ not only in their fruits but also in their leaves and their entire habit or mode of growth. Some melons are no larger than small plums, others weigh as much as 66 pounds; one variety has a scarlet fruit; another is only one inch in diameter but three feet long and is coiled in a serpentine manner in all directions. The fruit of one variety can scarcely be distinguished from cucumbers; one Algerian variety suddenly splits up into sections when ripe. The melons of our gardens may be divided into two sections: those with green flesh, as the citron and nutmeg; those with yellow flesh, as the Christiana, cantaloupe and Persian melons, with very thin skins and melting honey-like flesh of delicious flavor. In England, melons with red, green, and white flesh are cultivated.

By the earlier and unscientific travellers, the term melon has been used to signify watermelons, the Macock gourd of Virginia, and it has even been applied to pumpkins by our early horticulturists. The names used by the ancient writers and translated by some to mean melon, seem also in doubt. Thus, according to Fraas, the sikua of Theophrastus was the melon. In Liddell and Scott's Lexicon, the definition is given "a fruit like the melon or gourd but eaten ripe." Fraas says the melon is the pepon of Dioscorides. The Lexicon says "sikuos pepon, or more frequently o pepon, a kind of gourd or melon not eaten till quite ripe." Fraas says " he melon is the melopepon of Galen and the melo of Pliny." Andrews' Latin Lexicon gives under melopepo "an apple-shaped melon, cucumber melon, not eaten till fully ripe." Pliny, on the other hand, says in Greece in his day it was named peponia. In Italy, in 1539, the names of pepone, melone and mellone were applied to it. In Sardinia, where it is remarked by De Candolle that Roman traditions are well preserved, it is called meloni. As a summary, we may believe that although "a kind of gourd not eaten until fully ripe " may have been cultivated in ancient Greece and Rome, or even by the Jews under their Kings, as Unger asserts, yet the admiration of the authors of the sixteenth century for the perfume and exquisite taste of the melon, as contrasted with the silence of the Romans, who were not less epicurean, is assuredly a proof that the melon had not at that time, even if known, attained its present luscious and perfumed properties, and it is an indication, as De Candolle observes, "of the novelty of the fruit in Europe." When we consider, moreover, the rapidity of its diffusion through the savage tribes of America to remote regions, we cannot believe that a fruit so easily transported through its seed could have remained secluded during such a long period of history.

Albertus Magnus, in the thirteenth century, says, melons, which some call pepones, have the seed and the flower very nearly like those of the cucumber and also says, in speaking of the cucumber, that the seeds are like those of the pepo. Under the head of watermelon, citrullus, he calls the melon pepo, and says it has a smooth, green skin, but the pepo is commonly yellow and of an uneven surface and as if round, semi-circular sections were orderly arranged together. In 1536, Ruellius describes our melon as the pepo; in 1542, Fuchsius describes the melon, but figures it under the name of pepo. In 1550, Roeszlin figures the melon under the name of pepo, and in 1558 Matthiolus figures it under the name of melon. The Greek name of pepon, and the Italian, German, Spanish and French of melon, variously spelled, are given among synonyms by various authors of the sixteenth century; melones sive pepones are used by Pinaeus, 1561; melone and pepone by Castor Durante, 1617, and by Gerarde in England, 1597. Melons and pompions are used synonymously, and the melon is called muskemelon or million.

Whether the ancients knew the melon is a matter of doubt. Dioscorides, in the first century, says the flesh or pulp (cara) of the pepo used in food is diuretic. Pliny, about the same period, says a new form of cucumber has lately appeared in Campania called melopepo, which grows on the ground in a round form, and he adds, as a remarkable circumstance, in addition to their color and odor, that when ripe, although not suspended, yet the fruit separates from the stem at maturity. Galen, in the second century, treating of medicinal properties, says the autumn fruits (i. e., ripe) do not excite vomiting as do the unripe, and further says mankind abstains from the inner flesh of the pepo, where the seed is borne but eats it in the melopepo. A halfcentury later, Palladius gives directions for planting melones and speaks of them as being sweet and odorous. Apicius, a writer on cookery, about 230 A. D., directs that pepones and melones be served with various spices corresponding in part to present customs, and Nonnius, an author of the sixth century, speaks of cucumbers which are odoriferous. In the seventh century, Paulus Agineta, a medical writer, mentions the medicinal properties of the melopepo as being of the same character but less than that of the pepo, and separates these from the cucurbita and cucumis, not differing from Galen, already quoted.

From these remarks concerning odor and sweetness, which particularly apply to our melon, and the mention of the spontaneous falling of the ripe fruit, a characteristic of no other garden vegetable, we are inclined to believe that these references are to the melon, and more especially so as the authors of the sixteenth and following centuries make mention of many varieties, as Amatus Lusitanus, 1554, who says, quorum varietas ingens est, and proceeds to mention some as thin skinned, others as thicker skinned, some red fleshed, others white. In 1259, Tch'ang Te, according to Bretschneider, found melons, grapes and pomegranates of excellent quality in Turkestan. This Chinese traveller may have brought seeds to China, where Loureiro states the melons are of poor quality and whence they did not spread, for Rumphius asserts that melons were carried into the islands of the Asiatic Archipelago by the Portuguese. Smith, however, in his Materia Medica of China, says Chang K'ien, the noted legate of the Han dynasty, seems to have brought this "foreign cucumber" from central Asia to China, where it is now largely cultivated and eaten both raw and in a pickle. According to Pasquier, melons were unknown in central or northern Europe until the reign of Charles VIII, 1483-1498, King of France, who brought them from Italy. We find a statement by J. Smith that they were supposed to have been first introduced from Egypt into Rome. They were perhaps known commonly in Spain before 1493, for Columbus on his second voyage found melons "already grown, fit to eat, tho' it was not above two months since the seed was put into the ground." In 1507, Martin Baumgarten, travelling in Palestine, mentions melons as brought to him by the inhabitants. In 1513, Herrera, a Spanish writer, says, "if the melon is good, it is the best fruit that exists, and none other is preferable to it. If it is bad, it is a bad thing, we are wont to say that the good are like good women, and the bad like bad women." In the time of Matthiolus, 1570, many excellent varieties were cultivated. The melon has been cultivated in England, says Don, since 1570, but the precise date of its introduction is unknown, though originally brought from Jamaica.

The culture of the melon is not very ancient, says De Candolle, and the plant has never been found wild in the Mediterranean region, in Africa, in India or the Indian Archipelago. It is now extensively cultivated in Armenia, Ispahan, Bokhara and elsewhere in Asia; in Greece, South Russia, Italy and the shores of the Mediterranean. About 1519, the Emperor Baber is said to have shed tears over a melon of Turkestan which he cut up in India after his conquest, its flavor bringing his native country to his recollection. In China, it is cultivated but, as Loureiro says, is of poor quality. In Japan, Thunberg, 1776, says the melon is much cultivated, but the more recent writers on Japan are very sparing of epithets conveying ideas of qualities. Capt. Cook apparently distributed the melon in suitable climates along his course around the world, as he has left record of so doing at many places; as, the Lefooga Islands, May 1777, at Hiraheime, October, 1777.

Columbus is recorded as finding melons at Isabela Island in 1494 on his return from his second voyage, and the first grown in the New World are to be dated March 29, 1494. The rapidity and extent of their diffusion may be gathered from the following mentions. In 1516, "melons different from those here " were seen by Pascual de Andagoya in Central America. In Sept. 1535, Jacques Cartier mentions the Indians at Hochelega, now Montreal, as having "musk mellons." In 1881, muskmelons from Montreal appeared in the Boston market. In 1749, Kalm found at Quebec melons abounding and always eaten with sugar. In 1540, Lopez de Gomara, in the expedition to New Mexico, makes several mentions of melons. In 1542, the army of the Viceroy of Mexico sent to Cibolo found the melon already there. In 1583, Antonis de Espejo found melons cultivated by the Choctaw Indians. In 1744, the melon is mentioned as cultivated by the Coco Maricopas Indians by Father Sedelmayer, and melons are mentioned on the Colorado River by Vinegas, 1758. In 1565, melons are reported by Benzoni as abounding in Hayti, but melon seeds appear not to have been planted in the Bermudas until 1609.

Muskmelons are said to have been grown in Virginia in 1609 and are again mentioned in 1848. In 1609, melons are mentioned by Hudson as found on the Hudson River. Muskmelons are mentioned by Master Graves in his letter of 1629 as abounding in New England and again by Wm. Woods, 1629-33. According to Hilton's Relation, musk-melons were cultivated by the Florida Indians prior to 1664. In 1673 the melon is said to have been cultivated by the Indians of Illinois, and Father Marquette n pronounced them excellent, especially those with a red seed. In 1822, Woods says: There are many sorts of sweet melons, and much difference in size in the various kinds. I have only noticed musk, of a large size, and nutmeg, a smaller one; and a small, pale colored melon of a rich taste, but there are other sorts with which I am unacquainted." In 1683, some melon seeds were sown by the Spaniards on the Island of California. The Indians about Philadelphia grew melons preceding 1748, according to Kalm. In Brazil, melons are mentioned by Nieuhoff, 1647, and by Father Angelo, 1666. In various parts of Africa, as in Senegal and Abeokuta, and in China, the seeds are collected and an oil expressed which is used for food and other purposes and is also exported. In 1860, the production in Senegal was 62,266 kilos., and a considerable amount was shipped from Chefoo, China, in 1875. During the Civil War many farmers in the southern states made molasses and sugar from muskmelons and cantaloupes. In Kentucky, an occasional experiment has been made in converting a surplusage of melons into syrups with considerable success.


1. Early and late melons, as also winter melons, are described by Amatus, 1554; summer and winter, by Bauhin, 1623.

2. White- and red-fleshed are described by Amatus, 1554; yellowfleshed by Dodonaeus, 1616; green-fleshed by Marcgravius 1648; green, golden, pale yellow and ashen by Bauhin, 1623.

3. Sugar melons are named sucrinos by Ruellius, 1536; succrades rouges and succrades blanches by Chabraeus, 1677; and succris and succredes by Dalechamp, 1587.

4. Netted melons are named by Camerarius, 1586, as also the ribbed. The warted are mentioned in the Adversaria 1570; rough, warted and smooth, by Bauhin, 1623.

5. The round, long, oval and pear-form are mentioned by Gerarde, 1597; the quince form, by Dalechamp, 1587; the oblong, by Dodonaeus, 1616; the round, oblong, depressed, or flat, by Bauhin, 1623.

Cucumis melo dudaim Naud.


Equatorial Africa. The fruit is globose-ovate, as large as a lemon, and noi edible but is cultivated for its strong and pleasant odor. It has a very fragrant, musky smell and a whitish, flaccid, insipid pulp.14

Cucumis melo flexuosus Naud.


East Indies. This melon is cultivated in Japan and is called by the Dutch banket melon.

Cucumis prophetarum Linn.


Arabia and tropical Africa. The flesh of this cucumber is scanty and too bitter to be edible, says Vilmorin, who includes it among the plants of the kitchen garden. Burr says the fruit is sometimes eaten boiled, but is generally pickled in its green state like the common cucumber and adds that it is not worthy of cultivation.

Cucumis sativus Linn.


East Indies. The origin of the cucumber is usually ascribed to Asia and Egypt. Dr. Hooker believes the wild plants inhabit the Himalayas from Kumaun to Sikkim. It has been a plant of cultivation from the most remote times, but De Candolle finds no support for the common belief of its presence in ancient Egypt at the time of the Israelite migration into the wilderness, although its culture in western Asia is indicated from philological data as more than 3000 years old. The cucumber is said to have been brought into China from the west, 140-86 B. C.; it can be identified in a Chinese work on agriculture of the fifth century and is described by Chinese authors of 1590 and 1640. Cucumbers were known to the ancient Greeks and to the Romans, and Pliny even mentions their forced culture. They find mention in the Middle Ages and in the botanies from Ruellius, 1536, onward. The cucumber is believed to be the sikus hemeros of Dioscorides, and the sikuos of Theophrastus. Pliny says cucumbers were much grown in Africa as well as in Italy in his time, and that the Emperor Tiberius had cucumbers at his table every day in the year. We find reference to them in France in the ninth century, for Charlemagne ordered cucumbers to be planted on his estate. In Gough's British Topography, cucumbers are stated to have been common in England in the time of Edward III, 1327, but during the wars of the houses of York and Lancaster, their cultivation was neglected, the plant was lost, and they were reintroduced only in 1573. In 1629, Parkinson says "in many countries they use to eate coccumbers as wee doe apples or Peares," and they are thus eaten and relished at the present day in southern Russia and in Japan.

Cucumbers were grown by Columbus at Hayti in 1494. In 1535, Cartier mentions "very great cucumbers" cultivated by the Indians about Hochelaga, now Montreal. In 1539, De Soto found in Florida atApalache "cucumbers better than those of Spain" and also at other villages, and, in 1562, Ribault mentions them as cultivated by the Florida Indians. According to Capt. John Smith, Captains Amidos and Barlow mention cucumbers in Virginia in 1584 and they are mentioned as being cultivated there in 1609. Cucumbers were among the Indian vegetables destroyed by General Sullivan in 1779 in the Indian fields about Kashong, near the present Geneva, N. Y. At the Bermudas, "cowcumbers" were planted in 1609. In Massachusetts, they are mentioned in 1629 by Rev. Francis Higginson; William Wood mentions them in his New England's Prospects, 1629-33. In Brazil, cucumbers were seen by Nieuhoff in 1647 and by Father Angelo in 1666. There are a great number of varieties varying from the small gherkin to the mammoth English varieties which attain a length of twenty inches or more. The cultivated gherkin is a variety used exclusively for pickling and was in American gardens in 1806. At Unyanyembe, Central Africa, and other places where the cucumber grows almost wild, says Burton, the Arabs derive from its seed an admirable salad oil, which in flavor equals and perhaps surpasses the finest produce of the olive. Vilmorin in Les Plantes Potageres, 1883, describes 30 varieties. Most, if not all, of these as well as others including 59 different names have been grown on the grounds of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station. While some of the varieties grown differ but little, yet there are many kinds which are extraordinarily distinct.


The types of our common cucumbers are fairly well figured in the ancient botanies, but the fruit is far inferior in appearance to those we grow today, being apparently more rugged and less symmetrical. The following synonymy is established from figures and descriptions:

  • Cucumis sativus vulgaris. Fuch. 697. 1542.
  • Cucumis sativus. Roeszl. 116. 1550; Cam. Epit. 294. 1586.
  • Cucumis. Trag. 831. 1552; Fischer 1646.
  • Cucumis vulgaris. Ger. 762, 1597; Chabr. 134. 1677.
  • Concombre. Toum. t. 32. 1719.
  • ?Short Green. Park. Par. 1629.
  • ?Short Green Prickly. Mawe 1778; Mill. Diet. 1807.
  • Early Green Cluster. Mill. Diet. 1807.
  • Green Cluster. Thorb. 1828.
  • Early Cluster of American seedsmen.


A second form, very near to the above, but longer, less rounding and more prickly has a synonymy as below:

  • Cucumeres. Matth. 282. 1558.
  • Cucumis sativus. Dalechamp 1:620. 1587.
  • Cucumeres sativi and esculenti Lob. Icon. 1:638. 1591.
  • Cucumis vulgaris Dod. 662. i6i6.
  • Cedruolo. Dur. C. 103. 1617.
  • Cucumis vulgaris, viridis, and albis. Bauh. J. 2; 2 46. 1651.
  • Long Green Prickly. Mill. Diet. 1807.
  • Early Frame. Thorb. Cat. 1828 and 1886.


The third form is the smooth and medium-long cucumbers, which, while they have a diversity of size, yet have a common shape and smoothness. Such are:

  • ? Cucumer sativus. Pin. 192. 1561.
  • Concombre. Tourn. t. 32. 1719.
  • ? Large Smooth Green Roman. Mawe, 1778; Mill. Diet. 1807.
  • Long Smooth Green Turkey. Mawe 1778; Mill. Diet. 1807.
  • Long Green Turkey. Thorb. Cat. 1828.
  • Turkey Long Green or Long Green. Landreth. 1885.
  • Greek, or Athenian. Vilm. 1885.


The fourth form includes those known as English, which are distinct in their excessive length, smoothness and freedom from seeds, although in a botanical classification they would be united with the preceding, from which, doubtless, they have originated. The synonymy for these would scarcely be justified had it not been observed that the tendency of the fruit is to curve under conditions of ordinary culture:

  • Cucumis longus. Cam. Epit. 295. 1586.
  • Cucumis longus eidem. Baugh. J. 2:2 48. 1651.
  • Green Turkey Cucumber. Bryant 267. 1783.
  • Long Green English varieties. Vilm. 163. 1883.


The Bonneuil Large White Cucumber, grown largely about Paris for the use of perfumes, is quite distinct from all other varieties, the fruit being ovoid, perceptibly flattened from end to end in three or four places, thus producing an angular appearance. We may suspect that Gerarde figured this type in his cucumber, which came from Spain into Germany, as his figure bears a striking resemblance in the form of the fruit and in the leaf:

  • Cucumis ex Hispanico semine natus. Ger. 764. 1597.
  • Cucumis sativus major. Bauh. Pin. 310. 1623. (excl. Fuch.)
  • Bonneuil Large White. Vilm. 222. 1885.
  • White Dutch. A. Blanc. No. 6133.


Another type of cucumbers is made up of those which have lately appeared under the name of Russian. Nothing is known of their history. They are very distinct and resemble a melon more than a cucumber, at least in external appearance:

1. The Early Russian, small, oval and smooth.

2. The Russian Gherkin, obovate and ribbed like a melon.

3. The Russian Netted, oval and densely covered with a fine net-work.

The appearance of new types indicates that we have by no means exhausted the possibilities of this species. The Turkie cucumber of Gerarde is not now to be recognized under culture; nor are the Cucumer minor pyriformis of Gerarde and of J. Bauhin and the Cucumis pyriformis of C. Bauhin, Phytopinax, 1596.

If the synonymy be closely examined, it will be noted that some of the figures represent cucumbers as highly improved as at the present day. The Cucumis longus of J. Bauhin is figured as if equalling our longest and best English forms; the concombre of Tournefort is also a highly improved form, as is also the cucumeres of Matthiolus, 1558.