Watermelon Breeding

North Carolina State University started a breeding program on watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) in 1953.

Warren Barham was the first watermelon breeder. He worked with pathologist Nash Winstead, who went into NC State administration in 1961. One of Dr. Barham’s graduate students was Tom Konsler, who later became a faculty member in the department. In 1958, Dr. Barham left to work as an onion breeder for Basic Vegetable, Inc., a vegetable dehydration company in Vacaville, CA (he later went to Texas A&M Univ., and then started Barham Seeds). Warren Henderson took over the watermelon breeding program in 1959. He worked with pathologist Sam Jenkins (1961 to 1986). Dr. Henderson retired in 1992, and Todd Wehner took over in 1993. Other U.S. public watermelon breeding programs are located at the University of Georgia, Texas A&M, and the USDA-ARS in Charleston SC.

The objectives of the NC State breeding program were to expand our knowledge of watermelon genetics and breeding, educate graduate students interested in vegetable breeding, do research on problems affecting the watermelon industry, and develop improved germplasm for use in North Carolina and the U.S.

Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus (syn. C. vulgaris Schrad.) is an important crop in China, Africa, India, the U.S., and other areas with a long, warm growing season. The plants are fairly drought resistant, and do well on fertile, sandy soils in hot, sunny, dry environments. Worldwide consumption of watermelon fruit and their seeds is greater than that of any other cucurbits, including cucumber, melon, squash, pumpkin and gourd.