10 Refreshing Facts About Watermelon

Whether you think of watermelon as a fruit or a vegetable, you’re correct.
Watermelon is both fruit and vegetable.
Watermelon is both fruit and vegetable. / Daniel Grizelj/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Throughout summer, you’ll find watermelon added to drinks and served as dessert at barbecues across the country. Here are some tasty facts about this colorful, juicy treat.

1. Watermelon is both a fruit and a vegetable.

Thanks to their sweet taste, watermelons are commonly considered a fruit. And they do grow like fruit, originating from flowers that have been pollinated by bees, and, from a botanical perspective, they’re fruits because they contain seeds. But many gardeners think of them as vegetables, since they grow them in their gardens alongside other summer veggies like peas and corn. Technically, watermelon is classified as part of a botanical family of gourds that includes other culinary vegetables like cucumber, squash, and pumpkin.

2. You can eat the entire thing.

While we tend to focus on the melon’s succulent flesh, watermelon rinds are also edible—as well as full of nutrients. In China, the rinds are often stir-fried or stewed, while in the American South, cooks like to pickle them. And, across the Middle East and Asia, the seeds are dried and roasted (similar to pumpkin seeds) to make a light, crunchy snack.

3. They’re called watermelons for a reason.

They’re 92 percent water, making them a perfect refresher for those hot summer months.

4. Watermelons come in 1200 varieties.

Whole watermelons for sale at an outdoor market
Watermelons at a market in Sicily. / Dallas Stribley/The Image Bank/Getty Images

To make classification a little easier, however, watermelons tend to be grouped into four main categories: seeded (or picnic), seedless, icebox (also known as mini, or personal size) and yellow/orange. One of the most popular varieties is the Crimson Sweet, a seeded melon with deep red, sweet flesh. Some of the more unusual varieties include the Golden Midget, whose rind turns yellow when it’s ripe, and the Cream of Saskatchewan, whose flesh is cream-colored.

5. Seedless watermelons are not genetically engineered.

Contrary to what you might have heard, seedless watermelons are the result of hybridization, a perfectly natural phenomenon that farmers can nevertheless capitalize on. A couple of decades ago, seedless watermelons were hard to find, but today they make up around 85 percent of those sold in the U.S. And those white “seeds” that you still find in your seedless slices? They’re actually empty seed coats and are perfectly safe to eat.

6. Watermelons can grow really, really big.

Vintage illustration of a woman lounging on two halves of a giant watermelon.
Vintage illustration of a woman lounging on two halves of a giant watermelon. / Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

The heaviest watermelon to date was grown by Guinness World Record holder Christopher Kent, of Sevierville, Tennessee, in 2013. The Carolina Cross ’melon weighed in at 350.5 pounds. To give you some perspective, that’s the equivalent of an NFL lineman.

7. Watermelons contain an anti-cancer compound.

Watermelons are the best source of lycopene, an antioxidant that’s been shown to reduce the risk for several types of cancers, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration.

8. Farmers in Japan have perfected the art of growing square watermelons.

In Japan, farmers have been growing cube-shaped watermelons for the past 40 years, forcing them into their square shape by cultivating them in box-like braces. When the watermelon fills the cube and gets picked, it’s generally not ripe yet, meaning the inedible melons are sold—for prices upwards of $100—as novelty items and gifts. (The original idea was for them to better fit into standard refrigerators.) More recently, farmers have grown watermelon in the shape of hearts, pyramids, and human faces.

9. A South Carolina family has grown an heirloom variety of watermelon for almost a century.

The unusually sweet Bradford—created by Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford in Sumter County, South Carolina, in the 1840s—was one of the most sought-after varieties of watermelon the South has ever seen. But its soft skin made it hard to transport, and by the early 1920s it had proved to be commercially unviable. It would have disappeared completely had the Bradford family not kept it alive in their backyard gardens for multiple generations. It’s now being grown commercially again by Nat Bradford, Nathaniel’s great-great-great grandson.

10. Watermelons are the state vegetable of Oklahoma.

An early 20th-century advertisement showing a boy seated on a giant watermelon.
An early 20th-century advertisement showing a boy seated on a giant watermelon. / Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate honored its then-14th biggest crop by voting 44–2 to make it the state vegetable. (Why not fruit? That distinction was already given to the strawberry.) Its celebrated status was threatened in 2015, however, when State Senator Nathan Dahm moved to repeal the bill based on the argument that watermelon is a fruit. Thanks to Rep. Joe Dorman, who represented the town of Rush Springs—the site of an annual watermelon festival—Dahm’s bill died in committee.

A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2023.