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Evidence for the origin of Chayote, Sechium edule (Cucurbitaceae)

Newstrom, L.E.
Economic botany 1991 v.45 no.3 pp. 410-428
terminology, Sechium edule, domestication, history, geographical distribution, plant morphology, Mexico, Central America, South America, Caribbean, Guatemala
Sechium edule (Jacq.) Sw. (Cucurbitaceae), a one-seeded squash most popular in Latin America, is cultivated worldwide in tropical and subtropical climates. In the past, a Mexican center of origin for chayote has been inferred mainly from linguistic data, but to use this argument correctly, relevant indigenous terms should be interpreted. Evidence from historical documents indicates pre-Columbian Aztecs used chayote in Mexico, but the lack of documentation from other countries does not constitute proof that the plant was absent. Chayote’s center of genetic diversity suggests it was first domesticated in Mexico and Central America, but this variation could have been secondarily derived. However inconclusive these three lines of evidence are, they do converge on the same conclusion supported by new botanical evidence. Chayote’s closest wild relative,S. compositum, from Mexico and Guatemala, and two potentially ancestral forms of chayote recently discovered outside cultivation in Mexico, demarcate Mexico and Guatemala as the most likely center of origin for this ancient crop.