Scientists Keying in on Sweeter and Stronger Watermelon Varieties

cut watermelon
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

A slice of sweet watermelon on a hot summer day is hard to beat. Take seeds out of the equation and it’s even better. However, the highly sought after seedless varieties might be more susceptible to soilborne diseases like fusarium wilt. In a new study though, University of Florida scientists appear to have found a way to squash potential disease threats, while still retaining flavor.

During the study funded by the Florida Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, UF/IFAS researchers grafted seedless watermelon onto squash rootstocks. The practice of grafting is a useful tool to manage soilborne diseases. In this case though, researchers were concerned if they grafted watermelon onto squash rootstocks, they might reduce fruit quality and taste.

According to Xin Zhao, a UF/IFAS Associate Professor of horticultural sciences and lead author of the study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, results showed no loss in taste and major fruit quality attributes like total soluble solids and lycopene content.

Consumers in taste panels confirmed the flavor remained largely consistent between grafted and non-grafted plant treatments under different production conditions. In addition, compared with the non-grafted seedless watermelons, plants grafted onto the squash rootstocks exhibited a consistently higher level of flesh firmness. Zhao said.

Still to come is a paper that specifically tells researchers whether they successfully warded off fusarium wilt under high disease pressure. Stay tuned.

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