Bitter Melon—an Asian Vegetable Expanding in Florida
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia L.) is a member of the cucumber family: Cucurbitaceae. This melon is also known as bitter gourd, bitter squash, Goya melon, karela, and balsam pear (Stephens 2012). It is a tropical and subtropical vegetable crop with long climbing vines which is widely cultivated in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The fresh fruiting vegetable is one of the most popular vegetables grown in China, India, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. It has also been grown as a minor vegetable in tropical and subtropical regions of the United States including parts of Florida (Stephens 2012). The unripe fruit is used as a vegetable with a pleasantly bitter taste.
This crop is propagated via seeds with stiff testae (seed coats) which need warm (60–95°F) and moist soil conditions for germination. It may fail or take a long time to germinate if the soil is dry or the temperature is not high enough. Bitter melon is a dicotyledonous species that grows vines up to 16 feet long with many branches. After germination, the first pair of true leaves is round; the others are simple and alternate leaves measuring 2 to 5 inches across, with three to seven deeply separated lobes. Once the plant has grown four to six leaves, its vines start bearing tendrils for climbing. A trellis support system is necessary for high yield and quality bitter melon production. The trellis system is usually 6 feet high.