If you’ve seen one watermelon, you haven’t seen ‘em all. Not by a long shot. With more than 1,200 watermelon varieties worldwide there are melons in plenty of sizes, colors, and degrees of sweetness to taste and compare.
Watermelons come in three main sizes:
- At one end of the size chart are the big guys, so-called picnic watermelons. These are watermelons large enough to feed a crowd, and some of the giant picnic melons could probably feed everyone at a church picnic.
- Next down in size are cannonball or icebox watermelons. (Can’t you hear time and nomenclature marching forward through the decades with fewer and fewer folks knowing what cannonball-size means and more and more knowing what size watermelon will fit easily into an icebox or refrigerator?)
- Most recently, small, personal watermelons, also known as mini melons, are showing up in stores.
The outsides of a watermelon can be various shades of solid green, ranging from light, dusty-looking greens to greens that are so dark they’re almost black. Other rinds, sometimes called rattlesnakes, have “snakeskin” green and light-green stripes. A few melons even have rinds that start out green with the rinds turning yellow when they’re ripe.
As for the insides, red’s the most common color, but the reds can range anywhere from deepest red to almost pink. Watermelon flesh also can be yellow, orange, white, even have two swirled colors (such as pink and yellow). Furthermore, the flesh can have seeds or be seedless.
Tasting a range of watermelon types is the way to discover which varieties you favor. Check out farm stands, read seed catalogs, and plant varieties with descriptions that appeal to find the widest array to try.
Keep an eye out for new watermelon varieties, too – they’re still being developed. Any watermelon name that ends in “lee” is sure to have its roots in Leesburg, Florida, and the University of Florida’s watermelon breeding program there. (The program’s part of the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, referred to as UF/IFAS.) Over the years, the Leesburg program, has developed more than a dozen new melons, including Jubilee, one of the best-selling watermelon varieties in the U. S. In addition to Jubilee, the Leesburg watermelon breeding program can lay claim to Dixielee, Charlee, Sugarlee, Smokylee, and two smaller varieties, Mickylee (icebox-size) and Minilee (personal-size).
Here’s just a partial listing of the world’s watermelon varieties, many of which have wonderfully delicious, evocative names:
Amarillo – seedless, yellow flesh
Arikara – icebox-size, heavily seeded
Coming from the Arika tribe of North Dakota, this variety is thought to have been introduced by the Spanish during their explorations, eventually almost disappearing. As reported by Amy Goldman in The Melon, Arikara seems to have been salvaged by the Oscar H. Will and Company of Bismarck, North Dakota, which began producing it commercially in 1925. Will’s literature described it as “the water melon [sic] Lewis & Clark found growing among the Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa Indian tribes in North Dakota [in October 1804] when they made their famous journey.”
August Ambrosia – icebox-size
A variety released in 2018 by Petra Page-Mann, co-founder of Fruition Seeds, in partnership with Cornell University. It was bred to flourish in the Northeastern U.S., with the hope of it becoming a “Finger Lakes heirloom of tomorrow.” (Page-Mann notes that it takes 50 years for new open-pollinated varieties to become an heirloom; check back in 2068 to see if August Ambrosia made the cut.)
Black Diamond – green-black rind
Black Seeded Chilean
Blacktail Mountain – green-black rind
Bred in 1977 by Glenn Drowns in northern Idaho, in an area where summer nights average 43 degrees Fahrenheit. In her book The Melon, Amy Goldman writes that the good-in-cold-places variety got its name because Drowns lived at the foot of Blacktail Mountain.
Carolina Cross – enormous, often over 100 pounds, “the” variety for record-breaking weights
Developed in 1954 by Charles Andrus, a plant breeder with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in, you guessed it, Charleston, South Carolina. Its rind is a light, slightly dusty-looking green. According to the USDA, Charleston Gray is in the lineage of a whopping 95 percent of the watermelon grown in the world.
Chubbiness – seedless, icebox-size, dark-green rind
Cream of Saskatchewan – ice-box size, white to creamy yellow flesh
Introduced commercially by Judy Blum in 1987. Possibly brought from Russia by immigrants who settled in Saskatchewan.
Introduced by Kansas State University in 1963, it’s now one of the most popular watermelons in the world.
Dark Belle – oblong icebox-size, green-black rind
Densuke – icebox-size, dark green-black rind
Grown on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Densuke watermelons have a very dark green (“black”) rind and are known to be very sweet. Grown in limited numbers, they can sell for extremely high prices (several hundred U.S. dollars), in Japan, with one once selling at auction for more than $6,000 (U.S.). The variety has been called both “the black watermelon” and “the world’s most expensive watermelon.”
Desert King – yellow flesh
Early Moonbeam – icebox-size, yellow flesh
Extazy – mini/personal size, seedless
Thought to have been developed in Georgia in the 1830s, it’s sometimes called “the watermelon that made Georgia famous.”
Golden Midget – personal-size; rind turns yellow when it’s ripe, flesh is red
Bred by Lewis Edwin Peterson at a research farm operated by Iowa State University; released in 1976.
Jubilee – picnic-size.
Developed in 1963 by J.M. Crall in Leesburg, Florida, in the University of Florida’s watermelon breeding program. Not only is it now one of the best-selling varieties in the U.S., it’s one of the most commonly grown watermelon varieties in the world.
Kentucky Double Dwarf
King of Hearts – seedless
Klondike Blue Ribbon
Little Baby Flower – personal-size/mini
Malali – icebox-size
From Israel; grown both for its flesh and to roast the seeds.
Mickylee – icebox-size
Millionaire – seedless
Minilee – personal-size/mini
Mini Love – personal-size/mini
Moon and Stars – speckled rind
The celestial name comes from the unusual speckled small yellow dots (“stars”) and occasional large yellow spot (“moon”) on the dark green rind. Introduced by Peter Henderson and Company in the 1920s, it eventually was thought to have disappeared. “Moon and Stars” was rediscovered in 1981 growing on a farm in Missouri and is available commercially once again.
According to Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), by the 1840s this variety “was extremely popular in the Mid-Atlantic States and, because it shipped well, was grown almost exclusively for the Philadelphia and New York markets.” These days, the shop at Monticello sells Mountain Home seeds harvested from Monticello’s gardens.
New Hampshire Midget – icebox-size
New Orchid – icebox-size, orange flesh
Ocelot – personal-size/mini
Orange Crisp – seedless, orange flesh
Orangeglo – orange-flesh
First made available by the Willhite Seed Company in Poolville, Texas, in the 1960s.
Pixie – mini/personal-size, seedless
Rhode Island Red
Sorbet – seedless, icebox-size
Sorbet Swirl – icebox-size, flesh is in pastel swirls of pink and yellow
Starlight – icebox-size
Sugar Baby – icebox-size, green-black rind
Developed by M. Hardin in Geary, Oklahoma, and first offered for sale in 1959.
Sunshine – yellow flesh
Sureness – ice-box size, yellow flesh
Sweet Dakota Rose – icebox sized
Released in 2021. Bred by North Dakota farmer David Podoll and described as “developed for the Northern gardener by a Northern gardener.” Translation: It’s well adapted to short, cool growing seasons.
Sweet Siberian – yellow flesh
Originating in Russia and said to be from Siberia, this variety was first offered for sale in the U.S. in 1898 by Peter Henderson and Company.
Tom Watson – solid-green rind, often produces giants over 100 pounds
Originated around 1900, when a Florida farmer named it in honor of Georgia’s Thomas (Tom) Edward Watson. Tom Watson (the man) was a trial lawyer, U.S congressman, and U.S. senator who’s called the architect of the Rural Free Delivery mail system, this according to The Melon by Amy Goldman. Tom Watson (the melon) has flavorful flesh, encased in a thick, hard rind that made it an excellent melon to ship. According to Goldman, it was “the most popular shipping melon during the Great Depression. Archival photographs show these family-size beauties stacked vertically being transported to railroad loading spurs on Model-T trucks and horse-drawn wagons.”
Yellow Doll – yellow flesh
You Sweet Thing