Diseases of Bitter Melon in South Florida

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Bitter melon (Momordica charantia L.), also known as bitter gourd or bitter squash, is a tropical and subtropical vegetable crop in the family Cucurbitaceae. It originated in South Asia and is widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit. As one of the most nutritious
cucurbits, bitter melon is reported to have medicinal properties. A compound known as “charantin” present in the bitter melon has been used to lower blood sugar levels to treat diabetes. The plant is also rich in vitamins A and C, iron, phosphorus, and carbohydrates. 

Two major types of bitter melon are grown in South Florida year-round: Chinese and Indian bitter melons. The Chinese type is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends, and pale green in color with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of the Indian type has a narrower shape with pointed ends and a surface covered with triangular “teeth” and 8–10 vertical ridges. When ripe, the fruit turns yellowish orange in color. 

The most common diseases of bitter melon in South Florida include downy mildew, powdery mildew, Fusarium wilt, target leaf spot, and root-knot caused by nematodes. This publication describes these diseases and provides recommendations for their control. In terms of chemical applications, it is important to read and follow the labels prior to application.

Shouan Zhang
Mary Lamberts
Gene McAvoy
IFAS Extension, University of Florida