Ancestors of modern produce

By Brandie Piper

Published Sept. 27, 2015 on Discover.Monsanto.com.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is distantly related to U.S. President George Washington, explorer Meriwether Lewis, and General George S. Patton. Actor Alec Baldwin’s ancestors came to America on the Mayflower. Many famous ancestors of celebrities are well-documented, but have you ever thought about the ancestors of some of the world’s most popular food?

Throughout history, modern produce evolved through traditional plant breeding techniques. And most modern produce evolved so much that its origins are nearly indistinguishable from what it looks like today.

In honor of Ancestor Appreciation Day Sept. 27, here’s a look at some of the ancestors of modern produce and how plant breeding has transformed fruits and vegetables.

Watermelon
According to the National Watermelon Board, the first recorded harvest of the fruit was 5,000 years ago in Egypt. When those first watermelons were harvested, they were a fraction of the size they are now, measuring around two inches in diameter. The watermelons were also bitter, tasting nothing like the sweet fruit we now devour during the summer months. Traditional breeding was used to continually transform watermelon over the last several thousand years into larger, more desirable fruit.

By the mid-1600s, watermelon started to get much larger, more like the fruit we know today. But the flesh inside was downright bizarre by today’s standards. Immortalized in a painting by 17th century artist Giovanni Stanchi, sliced-open watermelons show spirals of seeds in light red flesh… [continue reading]

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