Is It a Cantaloup or a Muskmelon?

It all started at the store where a sign for cantaloup was clearly incorrect—the melon in question was definitely a muskmelon—a honeydew to be exact. A little later, I was looking through the larder and saw one of the jars of pickled cantaloup Rebecca had canned for me. Then, someone else talked with me about melons in e-mail. So, I thought it was a sign that I should talk a bit about the difference between cantaloup and muskmelon.

A cantaloup is actually a kind of muskmelon, but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes. It turns out that there are actually two kinds of cantaloup, but the kind you most likely see in the store is a North American Cantaloup (Cucumis melo reticulatus). There is also a European Cantaloup (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) that looks nothing like the cantaloup Americans are used to seeing in the store (Europeans appear to be equally confused about the American variety). In fact, you can find arguments that the European variety is the only true cantaloup. I’ll leave such discussions to those who want to buck the rest of the growing community. In my mind, they’re both types of cantaloupes.

The number of muskmelon varieties is huge. However, some of the most common types are: honeydew, crenshaw, and casaba. All of them have some characteristics in common, such as the strong musky scent when ripe and a plethora of seeds in the center. However, they also have significant differences that include the skin color and texture of the fruit. Personally, I enjoy all of the muskmelon varieties and look forward to growing at least one or two of them each summer.

The flavor, odor, and sugar content of all muskmelons is greatly affected by environment. In fact, two muskmelons growing on the same vine can have different tastes simply because one of the muskmelons gets to drink from the vine first. Too much water tends to make the muskmelon less tasty because the sugars become diluted—too little tends to reduce the melon size and it may not mature at all.

Some gardeners are also unaware that muskmelons rely on gender-specific flowers: male and female to produce fruit. Hot weather tends to produce a significant number of male flowers. When a vine has all male flowers, it won’t produce any fruit at all. Unfortunately, I don’t have any sort of guideline to offer you as to detecting whether a flower is male or female, but I do know that high temperatures tend to produce vines with lots of flowers and no fruit. When the temperatures are too low, the fruit tends to rot, rather than ripen.

Muskmelons also require mulching. If the fruit directly touches the ground, it won’t mature. They also need a constant level of moisture that only mulch can provide. In short, muskmelons are picky fruit to grow and you can’t always be assured of a high quality output.

So, the next time someone asks whether a fruit is a cantaloup or a muskmelon, you can answer with a bit more authority. You can also get the sign for the mislabeled honeydew fixed in your store. Let me know your thoughts about cantaloupes and muskmelons at