Last summer, we got a whole truck load of watermelons donated from a local farmer. At the time, we were using them to give Ursula bear her daily medicines as well as for enrichment with the other animals. The farmer gave us so many because he couldn’t sell them; they had sunburn! He assured us that there was nothing wrong with the fruit inside, but the sun damaged the rind and watermelons that aren’t pretty don’t sell well. So we got a whole pickup truck full of not-so-pretty-but-perfectly-tasty watermelons.
And that got me thinking, how can a fruit that grows out in the sun all summer, get sunburn?
The watermelon vine needs a lot of sun and water to be able to grow juicy watermelons, but sun and water are actually pretty bad for the fruit itself. The sun bakes the rind and causes it to dry out, the UV rays break down the cells of the exposed skin (just like your skin cells) and they lose color and die. Plus, droplets of water sitting on the skin of a melon act like lots of tiny magnifying glasses, amplifying the sunlight.
Photo Credit: Purdue Univ. Horticulture Dept.
If the melons aren’t covered by the vine or by a cloth, the sunburn keeps getting worse until…
Photo Credit: Texas A&M Horticulture Dept.
Sun scald! It’s the 3rd degree burn of the fruit world. If the burn has gotten this bad, the fruit inside is also probably inedible and is beginning to rot.
Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
So, keep your sunscreen on or wear loose fitting clothes that cover your skin whenever you’re outside (and keep your watermelons covered, too!). Sunburns aren’t good for any one, no matter your skin color.
And if, by chance, you want to protect your newly acquired watermelon while keeping it refrigerator cold for your afternoon picnic, you can always buy a personal watermelon chiller!