Odell’s white watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) originates from the Dutch Fork region of the South Carolina midlands. The large fruits weigh 13-27 kilograms and take 90 days to ripen. A productive variety, Odell’s white watermelon grows well in warm loam soils (ground temperature should be 21-32 °C) with high sand content.
Odell’s white watermelon is not actually white—it has light green, almost gray skin. This variety contains fewer seeds, and is less mealy, than most heirloom melons. It’s pink flesh has a balanced flavor: It is pleasantly sweet without being overly sugary. The rind, which is 1.9-2.5 centimeters thick, is excellent for pickling.
After being bred by an enslaved farmer on a South Carolina plantation in the 1840s, the variety was popularized by Milton Odell, who competed at agricultural fairs and impressed many with the large size and pleasant flavor of his melons. Odell’s white watermelon gained national attention in the late 1850s when seed catalogues and other printed materials spread its fame. Lodi, California, became the West Coast center of commercial production in the late 19th century, and Odell’s white was grown as a novelty crop in Australia in the early 1900s.
When the concern for water resources grew in the 1890s, Californian farmers stopped growing Odell’s white watermelon in favor of less water-intensive crops. The popularity of the fruit waned in the Southeast US when its vulnerability to fusarium wilt became evident in 1893. It was kept as a patch melon, cultivated in home gardens.
Odell’s white watermelon can now be found in Southern US seed catalogues, thanks to the efforts of one family working to prevent its extinction and repopularize the variety.