Citrullus colocynthis, with many common names including colocynth, bitter apple, bitter cucumber,desert gourd, egusi,vine of Sodom, or wild gourd, is a desert viny plant native to the Mediterranean Basin and Asia, especially Turkey (especially in regions such as İzmir), Nubia, and Trieste.
It resembles a common watermelon vine, but bears small, hard fruits with a bitter pulp. It originally bore the scientific name Colocynthis citrullus.
C. colocynthis is a desert viny plant that grows in sandy, arid soils. It is native to the Mediterranean Basin and Asia, and is distributed among the west coast of northern Africa, eastward through the Sahara, Egypt until India, and reaches also the north coast of the Mediterranean and the Caspian Seas. It grows also in southern European countries as in Spain and on the islands of the Grecian archipelago. On the island of Cyprus, it is cultivated on a small scale; it has been an income source since the 14th century and is still exported today. It is an annual or a perennial plant (in wild) in Indian arid zones and has a great survival rate under extreme xeric conditions. In fact, it can tolerate annual precipitation of 250 to 1500 mm and an annual temperature of 14.8 to 27.8 °C. It grows from sea level up to 1500 meters above sea level on sandy loam, subdesert soils, and sandy sea coasts with a pH range between 5.0 and 7.8
The roots are large, fleshy, and perennial, leading to a high survival rate due to the long tap root. The vine-like stems spread in all directions for a few meters looking for something over which to climb. If present, shrubs and herbs are preferred and climbed by means of axiliary branching tendrils
Very similar to watermelon, the leaves are palmate and angular with three to seven divided lobes.
The flowers are yellow and solitary in the axes of leaves and are borne by yellow-greenish peduncles. Each has a subcampanulated five-lobed corolla and a five-parted calyx. They are monoecious, so the male (stamens) and the female reproductive parts (pistils and ovary) are borne in different flowers on the same plant. The male flowers’ calyx is shorter than the corolla. They have five stamens, four of which are coupled and one is single with monadelphous anther. The female flowers have three staminoids and a three-carpel ovary. The two sexes are distinguishable by observing the globular and hairy inferior ovary of the female flowers.
The fruit is smooth, spheric with a 5– to 10-cm-diameter and extremely bitter taste. The calyx englobe the yellow-green fruit which becomes marble (yellow stripes) at maturity. The mesocarp is filled with a soft, dry, and spongy white pulp, in which the seeds are embedded. Each of the three carpels bears six seeds. Each plant produces 15 to 30 fruits.
The seeds are grey and 5 mm long by 3 mm wide. They are edible but similarly bitter, nutty-flavored, and rich in fat and protein. They are eaten whole or used as an oilseed. The oil content of the seeds is 17–19% (w/w), consisting of 67–73% linoleic acid, 10–16% oleic acid, 5–8% stearic acid, and 9–12% palmitic acid. The oil yield is about 400 l/hectare. In addition, the seeds contain a high amount of arginine, tryptophan, and the sulfur-containing amino acids.
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Photos Geri 8/10/2014 by George Konstantinou