Categorizing melons is sort of a to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to situation. There are several ways to sort out which melons belong to which category, and not all gardeners agree. Add hybrids to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a rich melon mélange. Before that mélange becomes a melee, let’s take a look at how you and your fellow gardeners can sort things out.
The American Horticultural Society separates melons this way:
- Cantaloupe: thick, rough, gray-green skin with deep ribs and orange flesh
- Winter/Casaba: smooth yellow or yellow/green skin with yellow or green flesh
- Muskmelons: fine reticulated markings on the skin with orange flesh; honeydew are also included in this grouping, as are American cantaloupes
OK, now that’s confusing; smooth skin and reticulated skin?
Here’s the thing: What we call cantaloupe in the U.S. is not the same as what growers in Europe call cantaloupe. True cantaloupe comes from Europe, by way of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Australia. You’ll notice that even the American Horticultural Society gives European/Asian cantaloupe its own category.
So, a more practical way to loosely group melons (Cucumis melo) is by appearance and origin. So, here are three categories that group melons in a somewhat less confusing way, with a few examples of melons that fit into each group:
Winter Melons (Cucumis melo inodorus)
- Piel de Sapo (translates to “Toad Skin”; also called Christmas melon)
Cantaloupe (Cucumis melo cantalupensis)—this is the European melon group, with ribbing similar to a pumpkin (but not as deep)
Netted Melons (Cucumis melo reticulatus)
- Cantaloupe (American)
Winter melons are so named because they mature later in the season, and they also keep well. It’s possible to harvest a Christmas melon, store it, and then enjoy it come Christmas. The cantaloupe category here is the European melon group. While it’s rare to find European melons in the U.S., there’s nothing to stop you from growing them. And the netted melons, of course, are familiar to anyone who’s ever had a breakfast buffet. Who could miss the color and aroma of what we’re accustomed to calling cantaloupe?
New varieties are being developed all the time, and they very often cross these arbitrary lines of categorization. What you’ll want to look for when choosing a melon (or two) to grow is what suits your preference and your growing season.
Which type of melons have you grown? Do you have a preference? Please share your opinion.