Earlier this month, farmers in eastern China found themselves perplexed when their watermelons began exploding, one after another. One farmer, Liu Mingsuo, told Xinhua that over two-thirds of his crop had blown up.
“More and more watermelons exploded,” he said.
This phenomena is, surprisingly, not uncommon in the Jiangsu province of China, but has only received worldwide attention this Monday, thanks in part to a well-timed news report and a string of food related scandals rocking the country in recent months.
When looking into the cause of the volatile fruit, researchers discovered that many of the plantations were using seeds imported from Japan, seeds from a strain of watermelon known (surprise!) as the “exploding watermelon”.
Wang Liangju, a professor at Nanjing Agricultural University, told the media that, “everyone in the Nanjing area calls this variety the “exploding watermelon” because it has such thin skin that it will easier break open when you try to cut it.”
Researchers found that this particular kind of watermelon when coupled with a plant growth stimulant called forchlorfenuron, actually cause the watermelon to grow so fast that it bursts. In U.S. studies, the same stimulant has been linked to kidney inflammation in rats.
Chinese farmers, whom Wang said were usually very uneducated, had been applying the growth chemical too early and too often in the watermelon growth cycle, which has resulted in the explosion problem.
“(Farmers) should be told when and how to use plant hormones, fertilizers and pesticide,” said Wang.