Watermelon Breeding

North Carolina State University has had a breeding program on watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) for decades.

Warren Barham was the first watermelon breeder, starting around 1953. He worked with pathologist Nash Winstead, who went into 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 (then Texas A&M Univ., then Barham Seeds). Warren Henderson took over the program in 1959. He worked with pathologist Sam Jenkins (1961-1986). 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 program are 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 cultivars and breeding lines for use in North Carolina and the U.S.

Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus (syn. C. vulgaris Schrad.) is an important crop in China, Africa, India, USA and other areas with a long, warm growing season. The plants are fairly drought resistant, flourishing on fertile, sandy soils in hot, sunny, dry environments. Worldwide consumption of watermelon fruit and their seeds is greater than that of any other cucurbit.