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1.  Medieval emergence of sweet melons, Cucumis melo (Cucurbitaceae) 
Annals of Botany  2012;110(1):23-33.
Sweet melons, Cucumis melo, are a widely grown and highly prized crop. While melons were familiar in antiquity, they were grown mostly for use of the young fruits, which are similar in appearance and taste to cucumbers, C. sativus. The time and place of emergence of sweet melons is obscure, but they are generally thought to have reached Europe from the east near the end of the 15th century. The objective of the present work was to determine where and when truly sweet melons were first developed.
Given their large size and sweetness, melons are often confounded with watermelons, Citrullus lanatus, so a list was prepared of the characteristics distinguishing between them. An extensive search of literature from the Roman and medieval periods was conducted and the findings were considered in their context against this list and particularly in regard to the use of the word ‘melon’ and of adjectives for sweetness and colour.
Medieval lexicographies and an illustrated Arabic translation of Dioscorides' herbal suggest that sweet melons were present in Central Asia in the mid-9th century. A travelogue description indicates the presence of sweet melons in Khorasan and Persia by the mid-10th century. Agricultural literature from Andalusia documents the growing of sweet melons, evidently casabas (Inodorous Group), there by the second half of the 11th century, which probably arrived from Central Asia as a consequence of Islamic conquest, trade and agricultural development. Climate and geopolitical boundaries were the likely causes of the delay in the spread of sweet melons into the rest of Europe.
PMCID: PMC3380595  PMID: 22648880
Andalusia; crop diffusion; crop history; Cucumis melo; Cucurbitaceae; Khorasan; medieval travelogues; melon; Persia; plant lexicography
2.  Occidental diffusion of cucumber (Cucumis sativus) 500–1300 CE: two routes to Europe 
Annals of Botany  2011;109(1):117-126.
The cucumber, Cucumis sativus, is one of the most widely consumed fruit vegetables the world over. The history of its dispersal to the Occident from its centre of origin, the Indian subcontinent, has been incorrectly understood for some time, due to the confusion of cucumbers with vegetable melons. Iconographic and literary evidence has shown that cucumber was absent in Roman times, up to 500 CE, but present in Europe by late medieval times, 1300. The objective of the present investigation was to determine more accurately when the cucumber arrived in Europe and by what route.
Findings and Conclusions
The evidence for the movement of C. sativus westward is entirely lexicographical until the 10th century. Syriac, Persian and Byzantine Greek sources suggest the presence of cucumbers, to the east and north-east of the Mediterranean Sea (modern Iran, Iraq and Turkey), by the 6th or 7th century. Arabic medical writings suggest the presence of cucumbers in Spain as early as the mid-9th century and in Tunisia by the early 10th century. Descriptive evidence in Arabic establishes the presence of cucumbers in Andalusia by the second half of the 10th century. Latin translations from Arabic sources indicate the presence of cucumbers in southern Italy by the second half of the 11th century. These writings, together with lexicographical discrepancies in names of cucurbits in late medieval Latin writings, suggest that cucumber was introduced to Europe by two independent diffusions. One diffusion appears to have been overland from Persia into eastern and northern Europe and preceded the Islamic conquests. The other, subsequent diffusion into western and southern Europe, was probably by a mostly maritime route from Persia or the Indian subcontinent into Andalusia.
PMCID: PMC3241595  PMID: 22104164
Crop diffusion; crop history; cucumber; Cucumis sativus
3.  Medieval herbal iconography and lexicography of Cucumis (cucumber and melon, Cucurbitaceae) in the Occident, 1300–1458 
Annals of Botany  2011;108(3):471-484.
The genus Cucumis contains two species of important vegetable crops, C. sativus, cucumber, and C. melo, melon. Melon has iconographical and textual records from lands of the Mediterranean Basin dating back to antiquity, but cucumber does not. The goal of this study was to obtain an improved understanding of the history of these crops in the Occident. Medieval images purportedly of Cucumis were examined, their specific identity was determined and they were compared for originality, accuracy and the lexicography of their captions.
The manuscripts having accurate, informative images are derived from Italy and France and were produced between 1300 and 1458. All have an illustration of cucumber but not all contain an image of melon. The cucumber fruits are green, unevenly cylindrical with an approx. 2:1 length-to-width ratio. Most of the images show the cucumbers marked by sparsely distributed, large dark dots, but images from northern France show them as having densely distributed, small black dots. The different size, colour and distribution reflect the different surface wartiness and spininess of modern American and French pickling cucumbers. The melon fruits are green, oval to serpentine, closely resembling the chate and snake vegetable melons, but not sweet melons. In nearly all manuscripts of Italian provenance, the cucumber image is labelled with the Latin caption citruli, or similar, plural diminuitive of citrus (citron, Citrus medica). However, in manuscripts of French provenance, the cucumber image is labelled cucumeres, which is derived from the classical Latin epithet cucumis for snake melon. The absence of melon in some manuscripts and the expropriation of the Latin cucumis/cucumer indicate replacement of vegetable melons by cucumbers during the medieval period in Europe. One image, from British Library ms. Sloane 4016, has a caption that allows tracing of the word ‘gherkin’ back to languages of the geographical nativity of C. sativus, the Indian subcontinent.
PMCID: PMC3158695  PMID: 21798859
Art history; crop history; cucumber; Cucumis melo; Cucumis sativus; Cucurbitaceae; cultivar-group; etymology; gherkin; melon; plant iconography; plant lexicography; plant taxonomy
4.  Genetic relationships and evolution in Cucurbita pepo (pumpkin, squash, gourd) as revealed by simple sequence repeat polymorphisms 
Genetic relationships among 104 accessions of Cucurbita pepo were assessed from polymorphisms in 134 SSR (microsatellite) and four SCAR loci, yielding a total of 418 alleles, distributed among all 20 linkage groups. Genetic distance values were calculated, a dendrogram constructed, and principal coordinate analyses conducted. The results showed 100 of the accessions as distributed among three clusters representing each of the recognized subspecies, pepo, texana, and fraterna. The remaining four accessions, all having very small, round, striped fruits, assumed central positions between the two cultivated subspecies, pepo and texana, suggesting that they are relicts of undescribed wild ancestors of the two domesticated subspecies. In both, subsp. texana and subsp. pepo, accessions belonging to the same cultivar-group (fruit shape) associated with one another. Within subsp. pepo, accessions grown for their seeds or that are generalists, used for both seed and fruit consumption, assumed central positions. Specialized accessions, grown exclusively for consumption of their young fruits, or their mature fruit flesh, or seed oil extraction, tended to assume outlying positions, and the different specializations radiated outward from the center in different directions. Accessions of the longest-fruited cultivar-group, Cocozelle, radiated bidirectionally, indicating independent selection events for long fruits in subsp. pepo probably driven by a common desire to consume the young fruits. Among the accessions tested, there was no evidence for crossing between subspecies after domestication.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00122-011-1752-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3284661  PMID: 22101929
5.  The Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae illustrated in medieval manuscripts known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis 
Annals of Botany  2009;103(8):1187-1205.
Background and Aims
Beginning in the last two decades of the 14th century, richly illuminated versions of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, the Latin translation of an 11th-century Arabic manuscript known as Taqwim al-Sihha bi al-Ashab al-Sitta, were produced in northern Italy. These illustrated manuscripts provide a window on late medieval life in that region by containing some 200 full-page illustrations, many of which vividly depict the harvest of vegetables, fruits, flowers, grains, aromatics and medicinal plants. Our objective was to search for and identify the images of taxa of Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae.
We have located all reported illustrated Tacuinum Sanitatis and similar or related manuscripts, searched through printed or electronic reproductions of them, categorized six of them that display full-page illustrations as archetypic, and established the identity of the Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae appearing in these six manuscripts.
Key Results and Conclusions
Of the Cucurbitaceae, Cucumis sativus (short-fruited cucumbers), Cucumis melo (including round as well as elongate melons), Citrullus lanatus (both sweet watermelons and citrons), and Lagenaria siceraria (including bottle-shaped as well as long gourds), are illustrated. Of the Solanaceae, Solanum melongena (egg-shaped purple aubergines) and Mandragora sp. (mandrake) are illustrated. These depictions include some of the earliest known images of cucumber, casaba melon (Cucumis melo Inodorous Group) and aubergine, each of which closely resembles an extant cultivar-group or market type. Overall, the botanically most accurate images are in the version of the Tacuinum located in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, cod. ser. n. 2644. Similarities and differences in botanical accuracy among the images of Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae in the six archetypal Tacuinum manuscripts suggest to us that another illustrated Tacuinum, now lost, may have antedated and served as a model or inspiration for the six surviving archetypic manuscripts.
PMCID: PMC2685323  PMID: 19318382
Citrullus lanatus; Cucumis melo; Cucumis sativus; Lagenaria siceraria; Solanum melongena; Mandragora sp.; medieval horticulture; history of horticulture
6.  The Cucurbits of Mediterranean Antiquity: Identification of Taxa from Ancient Images and Descriptions 
Annals of Botany  2007;100(7):1441-1457.
A critical analysis was made of cucurbit descriptions in Dioscorides' De Materia Medica, Columella's De Re Rustica and Pliny's Historia Naturalis, works on medicine, agriculture and natural science of the 1st century ce, as well as the Mishna and Tosefta, compilations of rabbinic law derived from the same time period together with cucurbit images dating from antiquity including paintings, mosaics and sculpture. The goal was to identify taxonomically the Mediterranean cucurbits at the time of the Roman Empire.
By ancient times, long-fruited forms of Cucumis melo (melon) and Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourd) were selected, cultivated and used as vegetables around the Mediterranean and, in addition, bottle-shaped fruits of L. siceraria were employed as vessels. Citrullus lanatus (watermelons) and round-fruited forms of Cucumis melo (melons) were also consumed, but less commonly. A number of cucurbit species, including Bryonia alba, B. dioica, Citrullus colocynthis and Ecballium elaterium, were employed for medicinal purposes. No unequivocal evidence was found to suggest the presence of Cucumis sativus (cucumber) in the Mediterranean area during this era. The cucumis of Columella and Pliny was not cucumber, as commonly translated, but Cucumis melo subsp. melo Flexuosus Group (snake melon or vegetable melon).
PMCID: PMC2759226  PMID: 17932073
Columella; De Re Rustica; Dioscorides; De Materia Medica; Pliny; Historia Naturalis; Mishna; Tosefta; plant iconography; Bryonia alba; Bryonia dioica; Citrullus colocynthis; Citrullus lanatus; Cucumis melo; Cucumis sativus; Ecballium elaterium; Lagenaria siceraria; Luffa cylindrica
7.  First Known Image of Cucurbita in Europe, 1503–1508 
Annals of Botany  2006;98(1):41-47.
• Background The genus Cucurbita (pumpkin, squash, gourd) is native to the Americas and diffused to other continents subsequent to the European contact in 1492. For many years, the earliest images of this genus in Europe that were known to cucurbit specialists were the two illustrations of C. pepo pumpkins that were published in Fuchs' De Historia Stirpium, 1542. Images of fruits of two Cucurbita species, drawn between 1515 and 1518, were recently discovered in the Villa Farnesina in Rome.
• Findings An even earlier image of Cucurbita exists in the prayer book, Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne, illustrated by Jean Bourdichon in Touraine, France, between 1503 and 1508. This image, which shows a living branch bearing flowers and fruits, had not been examined and analysed by cucurbit specialists until now. The image is identified as depicting Cucurbita pepo subsp. texana. Unlike some of the fruits of Cucurbita depicted in the Villa Farnesina a decade later, this image does not depict an esculent and does not constitute evidence of early European contact with New World agriculture. Based on the descriptive, ecological and geographical accounts of C. pepo subsp. texana in the wild, the idea is considered that the image was based on an offspring of a plant found growing along the Gulf Coast of what is now the United States.
PMCID: PMC2803533  PMID: 16687431
Cucurbita pepo; Lagenaria siceraria; Cucumis sativus; Bryonia dioica; Cucurbitaceae; crop dispersal; crop history; plant iconography
8.  The Cucurbit Images (1515–1518) of the Villa Farnesina, Rome 
Annals of Botany  2006;97(2):165-176.
• Background The gorgeous frescoes organized by the master Renaissance painter Raphael Sanzio (1483–1520) and illustrating the heavenly adventures of Cupid and Psyche were painted between 1515 and 1518 to decorate the Roman villa (now known as the Villa Farnesina) of the wealthy Sienese banker Agostino Chigi (1466–1520). Surrounding these paintings are festoons of fruits, vegetables and flowers painted by Giovanni Martini da Udine (1487–1564), which include over 170 species of plants. A deconstruction and collation of the cucurbit images in the festoons makes it possible to evaluate the genetic diversity of cucurbits in Renaissance Italy 500 years ago.
• Findings The festoons contain six species of Old World cucurbits, Citrullus lanatus (watermelon), Cucumis melo (melon), Cucumis sativus (cucumber), Ecballium elaterium (squirting cucumber), Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourd) and Momordica balsamina (balsam apple), and two or three species of New World cucurbits, Cucurbita maxima, C. pepo and, perhaps, C. moschata (pumpkin, squash, gourd). The images of C. maxima are the first illustrations of this species in Europe.
PMCID: PMC2803371  PMID: 16314340
Citrullus lanatus; Cucumis melo; Cucumis sativus; Cucurbita maxima; Cucurbita pepo; Ecballium elaterium; Lagenaria siceraria; Momordica balsamina; Cucurbitaceae; Agostino Chigi; Giovanni Martini da Udine

Results 1-8 (8)