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In May 2021, social media users enthusiastically shared a Twitter post that presented an odd factoid: “Oklahoma’s official state vegetable is a watermelon.” It was posted on May 24, by the Twitter account @UberFacts, and also proved popular on Facebook, and the online forum Reddit.
That core claim was accurate. The watermelon is designated, in law, as the official state vegetable of Oklahoma. We’re issuing a rating of “True.”
That official designation came about in 2007. Two lawmakers — Democratic State Rep. Joe Dorman and Republican State Sen. Don Barrington — sponsored House Bill 1669, which proposed adding a new section to the Oklahoma statutes, declaring that “The watermelon is hereby designated and adopted as the official vegetable of the State of Oklahoma.”
In March, the House passed the bill 78-19, and the Senate did likewise, in a 44-2 vote. On April 24, then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, signed the bill into law. As of May 2021, Sec. 25-98.15 of the Oklahoma Statutes states: “The watermelon is hereby designated and adopted as the official vegetable of the State of Oklahoma.”
The move caused controversy at the time and attracted a measure of national and international news coverage. Dorman’s home town of Rush Springs describes itself as “The Watermelon Capital of the World” and hosts an annual watermelon festival, an indication that his push for the designation was not purely motivated by an interest in botany or agriculture. A poll of readers of The Oklahoman newspaper found that 89 percent did not consider the watermelon a vegetable.
Before HB 1669 was signed into law, a fiscal impact report addressed the dispute over how the watermelon should be classified, as follows:
Whereas many residents of this state may view the watermelon as a fruit, scholars inform us the watermelon may in fact be considered both a fruit and a vegetable as a result of its membership in the botanical family Curcurbitaceae, with other family members such as the cucumber, pumpkin and squash. This fact alone establishes the watermelon as a truly versatile and multi-talented member of the Plantae kingdom worthy of this designation.
The watermelon, specifically Citrullus lanatus, the species cited in the fiscal impact report, is undoubtedly a fruit. In botany, a fruit is defined as the matured ovary of a plant, or its contents, and the watermelon fits that description.
The term “vegetable,” on the other hand, is not so precisely defined. It is often described as any edible portion of a plant — a wide net that would include fruits and nuts, for example — but some definitions specify that vegetables include only parts of a plant that are not fruits or nuts (for example leaves, roots, and flowers).
So depending on your interpretation, the watermelon is either exclusively a fruit, or both a fruit and vegetable — the latter interpretation being favored by Dorman and Barrington, back in 2007. For the record, the official state fruit of Oklahoma is the strawberry.
In 2015, Nathan Dahm, a Republican state senator, attempted to remove the watermelon as the official vegetable of Oklahoma. In February of that year, he introduced Senate Bill 329, which would have repealed the statute in question. However, the bill never advanced to a vote, and ultimately died on the vine, so to speak.