Watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) are members of the gourd family native to Africa. Both African slaves and European colonists were probably responsible for first introducing the fruit to South Carolina. In colonial times watermelons were generally much smaller than most modern-day varieties. Eating watermelon was considered an effective remedy for fevers. Watermelons were also crushed for their juice, some of which was fermented to make watermelon wine. The rinds were often pickled.
According to the South Carolina Watermelon Board, watermelons can be grown all across South Carolina, but modern commercial production is concentrated in the southern portion of the state (Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Allendale, Hampton, and Aiken Counties). Historically, the Sandhills region was celebrated for its watermelon production, and Chesterfield County is still a significant producer. Although production has declined in recent years, in 2002 watermelons were still planted in nine thousand acres of farmland, with a harvest valued at $7,878,000. The watermelon season in South Carolina begins with planting in March and April and ends with the harvest in June, July, and August. Watermelon festivals are held annually in Hampton and Pageland.
In 1954 C. Fred Andrus of the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston revolutionized watermelon production with the development of the Charleston Gray watermelon. The Charleston Gray was bred to resist disease and to better withstand the rigors of being transported. By the 1960s it was estimated that the Charleston Gray variety of watermelon made up ninety-five percent of the U.S. watermelon crop. Although the Charleston Gray has more recently lost ground to newer watermelon varieties such as the seedless watermelon, many of these newer varieties owe part of their lineage to the Charleston Gray.
Adams, Sean. “That Gray Melon from Charleston.” Agricultural Research 42 (October 1994): 23–25.
Allred, Amy J., and Gary Lucier. The U.S. Watermelon Industry. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1990.
Rupp, Rebecca. Blue Corn and Square Tomatoes: Unusual Facts about Common Vegetables. Pownal, Vt.: Storey, 1987.
South Carolina Watermelon Board.