The melon is a vegetable that belongs to the cucurbitaceous family, and which is known scientifically as Cucumis melo L.
It is an annual herbaceous trailing or creeping plant, if provided with the appropriate staking. It is made up of young rough shoots with thorns that grow out from the leaf axils.
It possesses an abundant root system which branches out and develops rapidly although the plant does not grow adventitious roots.
The stalks tend to climb and branch out and they are covered with hair and nodes where the leaves, thorns and flowers develop.
The leaves grow out from the main stem. This is the point from which the secondary buds are formed, and then in turn, the tertiary shoots where the female fruit bearing flowers are formed.
The leaves are petiolated, palmate, alternate; covered with hairy down and lobe shaped with 3 or 7 lobes. The edges are serrated although not in an overly pronounced way. The flowers are yellow in colour, singular, lobe-shaped axils. They may be male, female or hermaphrodite depending upon appearance, crop and the interaction of temperature and light together with the fertilizer applied.
The male flowers can be seen on the main shoots 10 to 15 days after planting and they appear thereafter throughout the whole growth cycle.
The female flowers appear 10 days after the male flowers. They are somewhat bigger, with an inferior ovary and appear on the second and third generation of shoots.
The fruit is of the pepo type; which means it is simple, fleshy, indehiscent, sincarpic; it grows from an inferior ovary and has a central cavity.
The shape of the fruit varies, it may be round or oval, the rind is green, yellow, orange or white and it might be smooth, rough or stripy.
When the flesh is ripe it is soft, watery, and green and white or orange in colour. The seeds are white or a yellowish cream, they are oval and flat, elongated and regular in shape.
The melon is rather demanding with regard to heat and light. The average temperatures required for growth vary between 18⁰C to 20⁰C.
This plant is not particularly demanding with respect to atmospheric humidity, the optimum humidity from the time of flowering up to fruit ripening being from 60% to 70%, although until flowering begins it can be kept slightly higher.
With regard to soil humidity, the melon plant is somewhat demanding in order that leaf development and fruit ripening take place as required. However, excess humidity will cause problems with germination, and once the plant begins to grow the result will be choked roots, as well as tasteless fruit lacking in sweetness.
The melon adapts to a large range of soil types, however it is advisable to use well drained and well fertilized sandy clay soil with a pH between 5.8 and 7.2.