Other Names: Dulce Pepino, Melon Pear, Sweet Cucumber, Pepino Melon, Tree Melon, Melon Shrub
Botanical name: Solanum muricatum
Family: Solanaceae (Potato family)
Distribution: Although pepino dulce is native to the temperate Andean region of South America, it is commercially cultivated in many parts of the world such as in New Zealand, Chile and Australia.
Pepino is a small, erect or ascending, herbaceous and tomato-like plant with a woody base. It can grow to a height of 1-1.5 m and can have a spread of approximately 1 m. The leaves are brightly green, simple to lobed or divided into leaflets, up to 15 cm long and finely hairy. Flowering occurs from May to September in Indian conditions. The flowers are small, purplish to white with central purple markings which develop in cymose inflorescence clusters. Most of the cultivated plants develop parthenocarpic fruits. However, self- and cross-pollination can also take place in this plant. The fruit is a fleshy berry, 5-10 cm in diameter and with a considerable diversity in their shapes. They can be oblong, pear-shaped, heart-shaped, egg-shaped or even round in shape. The parthenocarpic fruits are seedless. The fruit colour varies from purple to solid green or green with purple stripes or cream coloured with or without purple stripes. The fruits take 50-90 days for maturation. The flesh turns yellowish-orange during the ripening and develops a peculiar aroma and flavour.
Pepino is mostly propagated vegetatively through stem cuttings. The terminal, 7-15 cm cuttings with 3-5 leaves at the upper end can be rooted in sand mixture during any favourable season of the year without any treatment. Seeds, produced by the pollinated fruits, can also be sown in the early spring to raise seedlings. Plants transplanted during the spring or early summer bear good quality fruits.
The pepinos are highly adaptive to the various agro-climatic regions of the world. However, a temperature range of 15-25°C (they can tolerate a temperature of up to - 3°C) is best for its optimal growth. They perform better in a fertile, well drained and neutral soil. They prefer sunny or semi-shaded and frost-free locations. Only light watering is required when grown in pots. The heavily fruited plants require a support. Some reports indicate that a yield of 40-60 tonnes per hectare can be been achieved in this crop.
1. As a Fruit
Pepino is mostly cultivated for its edible fruits. Fruits are fleshy with a sweet aromatic flavour. The unripe fruits taste like cucumbers while the ripe ones have melon-like aroma and sweetish honeydew flavour. The ripe fruits contain 92% water and 7% carbohydrates. The glucose and fructose represent 28% and 18% respectively of the total sugar content in the fruits. The characteristic melon-like aroma in the fruits is due to the presence of volatile components such as 3-methyl-2-buten-1-ol (prenol), 3-methyl-3-buten-1-ol and their acetates. The cucumber-like aroma is due to the presence of nonanol, (Z)-6-nonenol, (Z)-6-nonenal, 2-nonanone, nonyl acetate and (Z)-6-nonen-1-yl acetate.
2. Medicinal Uses
A recent study (Shathish and Guruvayoorappan, 2014) with the fruits of pepino has shown that it can Inhibits inflammation, oedema and the growth of tumours by modulating the immune system. The immune modulation takes place through the reduction in glutathione, γ-glutamyl transpeptidase and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α levels.
3. As a Vegetable
The unripe fruits can be cooked as a delicious vegetable.
Facciola, S. 1990. Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications.
Shathish K and Guruvayoorappan C. 2014. Solanum muricatum Ait. inhibits inflammation and cancer by modulating the immune system. Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics 10:623-30.
Tankard, G. 1990. Tropical Fruit: A Australian Guide to Growing and Using Exotic Fruits. Viking O'Neil Publisher.
Whiteman, K and Mayhew, M. 2012. The World Encyclopaedia of Fruits. Anness Publishing Ltd., Leicestershire.