Monday, August 06, 2007

Is a Watermelon a Fruit or Vegetable?

You may be used to this argument for tomatoes, but watermelons? Yes, it seems there is a bit of confusion when it comes to classifying watermelons. The reason I bring this up is because I heard today that Oklahoma declared watermelon as the state vegetable. I couldn’t find confirmation that Governor Brad Henry signed it, but the legislature sent him a bill according to this piece.

So what is a watermelon? Just because a state legislature does something doesn’t mean it’s right. Could it be that lobbyist representing the watermelon lobby played a part in this? If I were a few million dollars richer and a lot more bored than I already am tonight, I’d launch a full investigation tomorrow. But I digress.

Let’s turn to our friends Merriam and Webster for some definitions. According to the world famous dictionary, a
vegetable is no less than something “of, relating to, constituting, or growing like plants.” Well, that pretty much covers everything doesn’t it? Sticks, leaves, roots, fruit and all. Okay. Let’s look up the definition of fruit. According to the dictionary, a fruit is “a product of plant growth.” Okay. Sounds exactly like a vegetable, yeah? Well, another part of the definition reads, “the ripened ovary of a seed plant and its contents.” Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Kind of.

Over at Wikipedia, things get even murkier with their entry for “
watermelon.” According to their definition, the term watermelon, “refers to both fruit and plant of a vine-like herb.” Wait. Herb? Is that a plant or a fruit? And how is Wikipedia using the term plant? Check that quote out again. How is “plant” different than the “fruit?” Isn’t the fruit part of the plant?

I went to the Wiki entry for
plant and it didn’t help. Plants, according to the entry, are exactly what you’d think: everything on earth except for single celled organisms (bacteria, eukaryotes), fungus and animals.

After becoming utterly confused (and rethinking my decision not to pursue the scandalous Oklahoma watermelon lobby conspiracy) I went to the Wiki for vegetable and got some comforting info. According to the entry, “Vegetable is a culinary term which generally refers to an edible part of a plant. The definition is traditional rather than scientific and is somewhat arbitrary and subjective.”

There, you see? When science is pulled out of the equation, all manor of chaos erupts. This reminds me of the whole “
definition of a planet” thing.

Now, botanically speaking (we’re talking science, now), “fruits are reproductive organs (ripened ovaries containing one or many seeds).” This leaves “vegetative organs which sustain the plant” to be vegetables. Finally, some reason. So, a watermelon is not a vegetable. It’s a fruit. Oklahoma state legislature, you are wrong.

But the Oklahoma state legislature is not the first to foul up the distinction between fruit and vegetable. In 1893, the Supreme Court ruled that, “a tomato is a vegetable for the purposes of 1883 Tariff Act.” (
See Nix v. Hedden in Wikipedia) This despite the fact that, in scientific terms, a tomato is a fruit.

Another interesting side note has to do with why a watermelon is called a watermelon. Remember its origins lead back to Africa, where watermelons are among the most common melons in the Kalahari Desert. Since they are relatively abundant, and water is not, they became “a popular source of water in the diet of the indigenous people.”

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.