Our news bulletins are released for Spring, Summer and Autumn each year. Some items from the January 2020 bulletin are given below.
The wild watermelon comes from Africa, but it is small and round with bitter, white flesh. No-one knows when it was domesticated and became the fruit we enjoy(?) today, but pictures in three ancient Egyptian tombs depict what looks like watermelons, including one that is strikingly/stripingly like a modern variety.
Recently, researchers have found watermelon leaves on a mummy, and DNA analysis shows that they have a gene for red flesh, and another that disables production of the bitter flavour (due to cucurbitacins). So it seems that this watermelon had sweet red flesh, but the DNA cannot tell us how big or small the melons were, or if they were footballs or rugby balls. However, it was closely related to a sweet, white-fleshed watermelon still grown in the Darfur region of Sudan. So this implies that the watermelon was first domesticated in this region, spreading northwards along the Nile to Egypt.
(with acknowledgements to New Scientist: 01/06/19)
We all know that potatoes originated in South America, and high in the Peruvian Andes near Cusco there is a 90 sq km Potato Park where nearly 1400 varieties are grown by descendants of the Quechua who first domesticated the tuber 7000 years ago. Amongst these varieties and the wild potato growing nearby, can be found resistance to frost, hail, intense sunlight and weevils and blights and other pests. These traits can be important for potatoes that combat hunger in Africa and Asia.
If you ever visit, don’t refuse an “Alpaca’s Nose” or a “Puma’s Claw”, but make sure that your “chuño” has been soaked, freeze-dried on your rooftop then trampled to remove its skin. We have it easy with our potatoes! Anyone who has grown “Pink Fir Apple” here will have a slight inkling of the difficulty of peeling a “pusi qhachun wachachi” which translates as “make your daughter-in-law cry”.
(with acknowledgements to The Guardian: 30/11/19)