Shark Fin Melon
Cucurbita ficifolia is a tender perennial in the cucurbit family, grown in a similar fashion to most other squashes. Despite its common name, the Shark Fin Melon, the fruit is used a vegetable. It gets its name because the strands are scraped out and made into a broth resembling the texture of shark fin soup. The plant is widely used both in Asia and in Southern and Central America where it goes under many different names including Chilcayote (Mexico and Central America), Chila (Peru) or Sambo (Ecuador.)
Shark fin melons can be grown outside, but like all other cucurbits, they are not frost hardy. Sow into small pots at the end of October, and transplant to the final position at the end of November, or when you think there is little risk of frost in your area. Shark fin melons are best grown on a soil that is not too high in nitrogen. Planting out on an overrich soil makes them produce copious amounts of foliage. Plants should be given generous spacing – we would suggest 1-2m apart, to allow them space to trail. As with squashes, they should be watered in well.
Pollination does not seem to be a problem, and you will find fruits start to set fairly rapidly after the formation of the first female flowers. The fruits start off as a pale lime green swelling beneath the base of the female flower. As fruits ripen they turn mottled dark green with white stripes, and swell to the size of a large rugby ball. We harvested 4-5 plants but beware – this can easily appeat to get out of control! Large fruits per plant can weigh in at 3-4kg each. Shark fin melons are treated like a winter squash, and harvested at the end of the season when they are mature. They will keep very well (several months, and reportedly over a year) in a cool, dry, frost-free place over the winter.
In Asia, eating this melon is also said to help people with diabetes, and several scientific studies have confirmed its hypoglycemic effect.