Kiwano, African Horned Cucumber or Melon, Jelly Melon

Cucumis metuliferus is a member of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family.

The horned cucumber plant is a vine 5-10 feet long of African origin. The stem is angular, ridged and hairy; internodes are 2-3 inches long. At each node, a 1-2 inch long curling tendril forms, along with two to four pale yellow male flowers, a leaf petiole, and occasionally a fruiting branch. The small, deeply cut, five-lobed leaves are similar to those of the watermelon. The fruits have an oblong shape, are 2 to 4 inches long, light-green until maturity and have distinctive, long, sharp spines on their exterior.

Market information

Marketing. Can't find sweet California grown Kiwanos.

Current production and yield. The name "Kiwano" is a registered trademark of Prinut Inc. which imports the horned melon from New Zealand. It's been grown in New Zealand since the 1980's. Frieda's Finest Produce Specialties Inc. of Los Angeles currently markets the Kiwano in the U.S. It is available year-round from New Zealand and California. Frieda's Finest reported in August 1989 that they were anticipating there would be at least 60,000 cartons of California grown Kiwanos/horned melons before the end of 1989. A New Zealand grower reported a yield of 200,000, 10-pound trays of fruit from 50 acres, but an 18 acre planting in Los Banos, CA yielded only 12,000 trays.

Use. The spiny fruits have a bland citrus or banana-like flavor. They are difficult to use because of the seeds. The fruit pulp can be strained to make a juice. The fruit turns bright orange when it is ripe. The ripe interior has a lime green jelly-like flesh with large seeds. The primary marketing thrust, however, is to sell the fruit for garnishes or decorative purposes.

Culture

Climatic requirements. The plant is sensitive to cold and may be only grown during the warm seasons. Hot, dry conditions are best for preventing powdery mildew.

Propagation and care. The plants are grown similarly to cucumbers. Caution is in order because Kiwanos have a "weedy" nature; they are vigorous climbers and robust plants which can quickly take over land. The fruit forms in clusters with the fruit closest to the plant center maturing first. They have to be cut from the vine, gloves should be worn, and care taken not to puncture a neighboring fruit with the spines. Consequently harvesting and packing are time and labor intensive.

Harvest and postharvest handling. USDA storage recommendations are 50° to 60°F (10° to 15°C) at 90 percent relative humidity, with an approximate storage life of 6 months. Do not stack the fruit as the spines can puncture other fruit. In New Zealand spines are made blunt by sanding.

Sources

More information:

Shidler, Lisa. "Kiwano Sparks Controversy." The Packer, July 19, 1986.
Campbell, Dan. "Hey Spike." Central Valley Rancher. January 1987.

The Packer. 1989 Produce Availability and Merchandising Guide.

Charlotte Glenn. Le Marché Seeds International, Dixon, CA. Personal communication.

Bill Fujimoto, Monterey Market, Berkeley. Personal communication.

Tropical Products Transport Handbook. USDA Agric. Handbook 668. 1987.

Compiled by Claudia Myers, UC Small Farm Center.

Reviewed by Charlotte Glenn, 11/15/89.

Reviewed by Tim Hartz, Vegetable Specialist, U.C. Riverside, 11/29/89.

Captions:

Figure 1. The fruits of the African horned cucumber, also called kiwano are 2 to 4 inches long at maturity. (Photo by Hunter Johnson).

Figure 2. Kiwanos on sale at a specialty market. (Photo by Robert Cook).

3/19/90