Any of the varieties of Cucumis melo, a trailing vine grown for its edible, often musky-scented fruit. Melons are members of the horticulturally diverse gourd family [Cucurbitaceae
]. They are
frost-tender annuals, native to central Asia, and widely grown in many cultivated varieties in warm regions around the world. The species has soft, hairy trailing stems, large round to lobed leaves, and yellow flowers about 2.5 centimetres [1 inch
] across. The fruits of the numerous cultivated varieties differ greatly in size, shape, surface texture, and flesh colour and flavour: they weigh from 1 to 4 kilograms [2 to 9 pounds
Seven groups of melons are cultivated:
Reticulatis group, the netted, or nutmeg, melons, including the small muskmelons, with net-ribbed rind and sweet orange flesh;
Cantalupensis group, the cantaloupes [named for Cantalupo, near Rome, where these melons were early grown from southwestern Asian stock
], characterized by rough warty rind and sweet orange flesh;
Inodorus group, the winter melons, including the large, smooth-skinned, mildly flavoured, and light green- to white-fleshed honeydew, casaba, and Persian melons;
Flexuosus group, the snake or serpent melons, up to 7 cm in diameter and about 1 metre [3 feet
] long, with slightly acid cucumber-like flesh;
Conomon group, the Oriental pickling melons, with greenish flesh, neither musky nor sweet;
Chito group, the mango melons, with fruit usually the size and shape of a lemon or orange, and
flesh whitish and cucumber-like; Dudaim group, sometimes called the stinking melons, characterized by orange-sized, highly fragrant and inedible ornamental fruit.
Cantaloupes are commonly grown commercially in Europe; the melons sold as "cantaloupes" in the U.S. are a variety of melons, especially the netted types. The familiar dessert melons in North America are the netted and winter melons. Chito, Conomon, and Flexuosus melons, grown for making preserves and pickles, and Dudaim melons, grown for their ornamental and perfumed fruits, are of commercial importance only locally.
Cantaloupes and netted melons are ripe when they give off a sweet fruity odour, at which time they "slip" or break readily at the union of fruit and stalk. Honeydews and casabas are ripe when they turn yellow, at which time they are cut from the vine; they are called the winter melons because they ripen late and mature slowly in storage for many weeks, becoming softer but not noticeably sweeter.
Plants resembling true melons include the watermelon; the Chinese watermelon; the melon tree; and the melon shrub, or pear melon [Solanum muricatum
], with purple fruit and yellow aromatic flesh, native to the Andes.