Sunday, August 30, 2015

Watermelon Diffusion

Weather: Ground wet Thursday morning, but all the forecast rain produced were clouds.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, bird of paradise, buddleia, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, datura, morning glories, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, annual four o’clock, bouncing Bess, David and purple garden phlox, red amaranth, cultivated sunflowers, African marigolds, coreopsis, blanket flower, yellow yarrow, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Yellow mullein, goat’s head, white sweet clover, bindweed, scarlet creeper, green-leaf five-eyes, yellow and white prairie evening primroses, leather leaf globe mallow, green amaranth, pigweed, Hopi tea, native sunflower, plains paper flower, horseweed, wild lettuce, flea bane, gumweed, goldenrod, áñil del muerto, Tahoka daisy, golden hairy asters, side oats grama grass.

In my yard: Rugosa roses, yellow potentilla, caryopteris, garlic chives, California poppy, lady bells, calamintha, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Maximilian sunflowers, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, bachelor button, purple and cut-leaf coneflowers, Mönch aster, yellow and reseeded Sensation cosmos.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon, moss roses, marigold, gazania.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Woodpecker in the black locust, small birds, geckos, cabbage butterflies, bees, grasshoppers, hornets, dragonflies.

Weekly update: This hasn’t been a good year for watermelon. When it rains, the vines and leaves grow; when it rains a lot, as it has this year, they’re all that grow. Female flowers abort. Fungus attacks.

The vines have survived worse. They grew in the valley for nearly 300 years before seed companies began selling packets. That’s 300 times the annual reproduced enough for farmers to gather seeds for the next spring.

The melon’s path north to San Juan, where it was seen by Juan de Oñate in 1598, is impossible to trace today. All we know is when Spaniards saw the fruits. That’s a record of colonial expansion not ecological diffusion.

In 1582, Antonio Espejo rode north tracing some Franciscans who had gone to Tigua. Two days from his starting point at San Bartolomé in Chihuahua, he saw Conchos rancherías where they grew "some crops of maize, gourds, Castilian melons, and watermelons, like winter melons."

Their neighbors, the Pazaguantes, grew "food like the Conchos." Espejo continued north to Sia, then went west to the Hopi. All he recorded were maize, beans and gourds. It’s sometimes hard to trust a soldier’s vegetation report. Military men only see what grows where they ride, report only what they recognize. Depending on the season, squash, gourds and watermelons all look alike, trailing vines with yellow flowers.

The important thing is that at each place Espejo stopped, the natives told them about the next group north or west. His journal suggests the communication links that existed between bands fifteen years before Oñate. We have to guess seeds flowed through those networks.

The colonists brought their own watermelon seeds. In 1600, Juan de Torquemada wrote "many good melons and sandías" were growing under irrigation along the Chama river. Since he was a Franciscan, he may have been referring to mission gardens, and not the crops of the settlers in the area now called Chamita.

The same caveat applies to the comments of Alonso de Benavides in 1630 that the land was fertile, "yielding in great abundance from whatever seeds are planted." The Franciscan’s list included "squashes and pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes and cucumbers."

Watermelons reached the Hopi before the Pueblo revolt of 1680. Seeds were found buried in the destroyed pueblo of Awátovi. They may have been chewed to create binders for the pigments on the murals. They did become the fat used to grease stones used to make piki bread.

To their west, Eusebio Kino recorded the Yuma grew "fields of maize, beans, calabashes, and watermelons" in 1698. Earlier Pima speakers had met him with "many of the foods from their fields - maize, beans, and watermelons." So far as he knew, the Jesuit priest was the first to explore that part of Sonora and Arizona.

Leonard Blake thinks the reason melons were so quickly accepted by Native Americans is they could be grown like the familiar squashes. He noted the Huron sprouted squash seeds in "a box filled with rotted wood, which was moistened and suspended over the smoke of a fire."

In 1721, Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix observed "Sun-Flowers, Water-Melons and Pomkins are set by themselves; and before they sow the Seed, they make it shoot in Smoke, in light and black earth." At the time, he was at the Jesuit’s mission to the Potawatomi in western Michigan.

The similarities were more fundamental than planting techniques. Squash and watermelon are, after all, in the same gourd plant family.

Squashes could be planted in spring by nomadic bands. Unlike corn, they could be abandoned during the summer and harvested in fall.

William Weaver says watermelons are uniquely adapted to drought. During wet periods they store water in their fruits, then go dormant "when the vines die and the thick-rinded fruit lies scattered in the sun." When the time comes to reproduce, the melons split open and seedlings that have germinated in the watery reservoir spread forth.

The Ramah Navaho replicated nature by soaking seeds in cold water with golden smoke or spreading yellow cress. Both have yellow flowers like watermelons. Corydalis aurea is in the poppy family. Rorippa sinuata is a mustard.

The Navajo and Apache probably got their seeds after the Revolt, perhaps from the pueblos, perhaps from abandoned fields. Roque de Madrid led an expedition against the Navajo living in what is now northwestern New Mexico in 1705. Years after, Antonio Tafoya remembered he had seen them growing "maize, beans, squash and watermelons in the cañadas."

Fourteen years later, Juan de Ulibarrí led an expedition to the Apache living at El Cuartelejo on the plains. He reported, they were "growing corn, watermelon, pumpkin, wheat, kidney bean."

Historians attribute their appearance in the Awátovi ruins to the priests who built their church over the original kiva. However, the Hopi words for watermelon suggest they had the fruits first and, in the absence of a name, used descriptive labels for them. Kawa’yo and kawaivatnga meant horse pumpkin. They told Alfred Whiting the fresh fruit smelled like sweating horses.

Barbara Friere-Marreco said the Santa Clara name for watermelon was tuwi’ig for spotted. She added the word was used "in the presence of Mexicans, as it is feared that they will understand sandía."

It was politic to not show vines to Espejo, and wise to not mention them to local Spanish-speaking settlers.

Notes: The last post mentioned the melons found at San Juan in 1598. Piki bread was discussed in the post for 28 February 2015.

Benavides, Alonso de. Memorial que fray Juan de Santaner de la Orden de S. Francisco Presenta a la Magestad Catolica del Rey don Felipe Quarto, 1630, translated in Baker H. Morrow, A Harvest of Reluctant Souls, 1996.

Blake, Leonard W. "Early Acceptance of Watermelon by Indians of the United States," Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 1:193-199:1981.

Bolton, Herbert Eugene. Kino's Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta, 1683-1711, 1919, on Yuma.

_____. The Rim of Christendom, 1936, on Pima.

Charlevoix, Pierre-François-Xavier de. Letters to the Dutchess Lesdiguierres, 1763, anonymous translator. He also wrote about watermelon when he was in the area of the Iroquois and at Kaskaskia in 1721.

Espejo, Antonio. "Account of the Journey to the Provinces and Settlements of New Mexico," 1583, translated in Herbert Eugene Bolton, Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706, 1916.

Friere-Marreco, Barbara, John Peabody Harrington and, William Wilfred Robbins. Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

Montgomery, Ross Gordon, Watson Smith and John Otis Brew. Franciscan Awatovi, 1949, cited by Robert W. Preucel, Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt, 2007.

Tafoya, Antonio. Quoted in Rick Hendricks and John P. Wilson, The Navajos in 1705, 1996.

Torquemada, Juan de. Monarquía Indiana, 1615, cited by Friere-Marreco.

Ulibarrí, Juan de. Diary of expedition to El Cuartelejo, 1706, translated in Alfred B. Thomas, After Coronado, 1935.

Vossen, H. A. M. van der, O. A. Denton, and I. M. El Tahir. "Citrullus lanatus," in G. J. H. Grubben and O. A. Denton, Plant Resources of Tropical Africa, volume 2, 2004.

Weaver, William Woys. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, 1997.

Whiting, Alfred F. Ethnobotany of the Hopi, 1939.

Photographs: Taken in the area on 21 August 2015.

1. Large leaves in back dwarf the peppers; the vine looping in front rambles over ten feet without a fruit or flower.

2. White spots on leaves, probably a fungus.

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