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Cucumber. Botanical Name: Cucumis sativus; Family : Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.vegetablegardener.com

Do you know the best remedy to beat the scorching summer heat? The humble cucumber of course! The phrase “as cool as a cucumber” conjures up an image of a person who remains cool, calm, and collected in a difficult situation just as a cucumber’s inner flesh remains cool even if it’s just been plucked from a hot garden. It is one of the oldest cultivated vegetable.

Bottle Gourd. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.medindia.net

Cucumber belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family and includes  many of our favourite vegetables such as pumpkins, melon, cucumber, watermelon, bottle gourds, and bitter gourds. The botanical genus Cucumis, to which cucumber (Cucumis sativus) belongs, was long thought to have originated and diversified in Africa, since many wild species of Cucumis are found there. However, recently obtained molecular data have shown that cucumber (Cucumis sativus L) and melon (Cucumis melo L) are indigenous to India and likely to have originated from the foothills of the Himalayas.

Pumpkin. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk

Botanists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now  shown that both plants origniated in Asia. The cucumber traces its ancestry to the slopes of the Himalayas. Researcher Arun Pandey from the University of Delhi and Susanne Renner from the University of Munich, Germany, created a new checklist of the Cucurbitaceae so as to update the data about the Cucurbitaceae family.

Ridge Gourd. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.indosungod.blogspot.com

The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Bitter Gourd. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.webindia123.com

The list has 400 names and gives details about the location from where the specimens were collected. The list also includes 94 species from 31 genera. Of the 94 species, 10 are endemic to India. Besides giving details about the location of the samples, the list gives information about the publicly available DNA sequences. DNA sequences of at least 79 percent of the 94 species are available in GenBank – National Institute of Health (NIH) genetic sequence database in the United States, which has a collection of all publicly available DNA sequences.

In a statement, Ms. Renner said

“Updating and summarising the available information on Indian Cucurbitaceae and linking it to molecular data and images may help to focus phylogenetic and floristic research on poorly known species, and potentially strengthen conservation efforts. It may also provide vital genetic information to improve the current varieties of pumpkins, cucumbers, and their relatives.”

Biodiversity of India is truly amazing. The published research paper along with the list can be accessed at The Cucurbitaceae of India: Accepted names, synonyms, geographic distribution, and information on images and DNA sequences.