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The Handled Ancient American Watermelon (rareseeds.com)
133 points by fanf2 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments





This beautiful watermelon story makes an odd-turn midway through. It starts with a tale of watermelon seeds found in Southwestern US cave, and then smoothly segues into a prison interview with Cliven Bundy, who turns out have been instrumental in preserving the variety:

"Bundy is better known for his involvement in a nationally publicized dispute over paying to graze cattle on public land. He had passed these seeds along with his other precious heirloom melon varieties to our Southwest gardener friend, just a few hours before Bundy’s fellow protester Levoy Finicum was shot at the infamous Oregon wildlife refuge occupation. Shortly after the shooting, he was taken into custody and has been held without bail since. The last known steward of the ancient watermelon, Bundy, is federally incarcerated at a prison outside of Las Vegas, Nevada."

This is a side of Bundy that I haven't seen covered elsewhere, although Bundy's son Ryan touched on some similar topics in his recent opening statement: https://thewashingtonstandard.com/ryan-bundys-opening-statem....


He was the nicest malcontent...

This 'article' is an advert. The story about the origin of the seeds is most likely a fabrication invented to sell melons (and now seeds). The watermelon is native to Africa. It is possible that the seeds were in fact old, but not that they predate the arrival of Europeans and Africans in the New World. If anyone is seriously interested, a genetic analysis of the plant would clear things up.

While I am also skeptical, there are watermelon-like species native to the southwest, for example calabazilla (Cucurbita foetidissima) that could have been the starting point for selective breeding. Native Americans selectively bred other cucurbits, so it's not entirely unreasonable to think they could have created a watermelon-like fruit. Comparing DNA would give you the answer, but you could also look at morphological characteristics. For example, true watermelon (Citrullus lantanus) has highly lobed leaves, while based on one of the pictures in the article, this "watermelon" species does not. Potential wild relatives in the southwest also don't tend to have lobed leaves, for what it is worth.

I can't speak to the veracity of the original discovery story, which seems plausible to me, having spent decades roaming the deserts, and exploring remote caves of the American South West.

But having for some years engineered a farm & garden radio show, with Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds as a twice yearly guest, I'd say you're mistaken if you're implying he fabricated a story, he's quite an earnest fellow, not into "selling" anything.

He's a provider of quality heirloom seeds, he doesn't need to "sell" anything, his clients crave his products.


Also not the mention of Mormon hardliners like Bundy in the text. The Mormons believe that Jesus traveled to the New World and preached the gospel to Indians. There may be other reasons to suggest an ancient connection between the Old and New Worlds. Just a thought.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamanite http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Native_Americans


They address that part of the way down the article.

In an interview from the 1980s, Art mentioned that the University of Arizona called his find a “true American Melon” and that he had been told that it was perhaps an ancient cross of different cucurbits native to the U.S., much like the ancient cross of wild maize and teosinte that resulted in corn. This would mean that it is not a true watermelon from Africa, but a look-alike relative

I personally agree with you though. 500 plus years seems a bit too long to store viable watermelon seed, even in a dry clay jar. The seeds most likely originated from old world stock.


Yes, Africa -> Spanish -> Native Americans.

I was not expecting Cliven Bundy to be a part of this story. Too bad he wasn't content to just be a famed ancient melon farmer.

How the hell did you manage to get an heirloom sees catalog on the front page!? That's great! I have been getting this catalog for the last few years and have big plans about starting from seed this winter indoors. I finally have garden space but little time to enjoy it.

I was literally looking at this catalog last night, and I was intrigued by this watermelon seed in particular. Afterwards, I went to a Beatles/Circus show featuring some contortionist acrobats, and today on hacker news is an article about this weird watermelon seed, and also a link to the contortionists handbook. I know its all just strange coincidence, but its uncanny just how strange the coincidences are.

Is there supposed to be any content here? All I see is a giant image of some watermelons and links to other images of fruits and vegetables. The links are under "read our other stories" so I assume there is supposed to be text.

At first it only loads a bit of the article, but if I scroll down it shows all the rest. It also works if I click the down arrow on the big picture.

When I click the down arrow, I am brought to the bottom of the page with the links to other articles but there is no article between the big picture and the links, just the "Read Our Other Stories" header.

EDIT: Resizing my browser to a smaller vertical size made it load. Strange UX.


Where can one get these seeds?

It appears they only sell the handle-less variety at the moment. https://www.rareseeds.com/art-combe-s-ancient-watermelon/


After reading the article, the above seeds are ones that have had the handles bred out of them. We'll have to wait until 2018 for a seeds that were selected for handles.

You could also try contacting some of the farmers and growers mentioned in the article who have been growing them for a while, and try to get seeds from one of the handled ones they have grown



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