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New Phytol. 2015 Jan;205(2):526-32. doi: 10.1111/nph.13163. Epub 2014 Oct 31.

Watermelon origin solved with molecular phylogenetics including Linnaean material: another example of museomics.

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Department of Biology, University of Munich (LMU), Menzinger Straße 67, Munich, 80628, Germany.


Type specimens are permanently preserved biological specimens that fix the usage of species names. This method became widespread from 1935 onwards and is now obligatory. We used DNA sequencing of types and more recent collections of wild and cultivated melons to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the genus Citrullus and the correct names for its species. We discovered that the type specimen of the name Citrullus lanatus, prepared by a Linnaean collector in South Africa in 1773, is not the species now thought of as watermelon. Instead, it is a representative of another species that is sister to C. ecirrhosus, a tendril-less South African endemic. The closest relative of the watermelon instead is a West African species. Our nuclear and plastid data furthermore reveal that there are seven species of Citrullus, not four as assumed. Our study implies that sweet watermelon originates from West, not southern Africa as previously believed, and that the South African citron melon has been independently domesticated. These findings affect and explain numerous studies on the origin of these two crops that led to contradictory results because of the erroneous merging of several distinct species.


Citrullus; crop origin; domestication; phylogenetics; taxonomy; watermelon

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