Go home, berries, you’re drunk.

What is a fruit?

Botanically, this could lead you down a never ending pathway of obscure, highly specific yet often ill-defined and little used lingo, most of which boils down to ‘Well, err, fruit is complicated’. Frankly, fruit doesn’t know what fruit is.

Basically, plants are an inventive bunch and don’t really like doing things in a consistent fashion. Animals are fairly boring when it comes to reproduction; egg meets sperm, baby grows in a nice little egg or warm womb and then pops out (ok, ok, I’m simplifying but I gave up Animals at GCSE). As plants have to worry about all this dispersal business, they need to make sure their offspring get out into the world in a way which maximises their chances of finding somewhere suitable to grow.  Different parts of flowers and inflorescences (groups of flowers) have been recruited to make the fruit tasty, or poisonous, or sticky, or explosive or able to fly or float or resist fire etc etc. As you can imagine, with this range of functions, fruits are very diverse, and to make things even more confusing, the terminology is all mixed up too, particularly when it comes to berries.

I couldn't eat it I was that amazed.

The grape on the left (which is a berry) got so confusd by the whole fruit debacle she decided to go for the pumpkin look.

Botanically a berry is, in the words of the esteemed Kew Plant Glossay (and non-botanists might want to look away here while the botany nerds get their smelling salts out): ‘an indehiscent (so, not cracking open) simple fruit with one to many seeds immersed in a fleshy pulp, supported by an endocarp (bit immediately around the seed) less than 2mm thick, the pericarp (old ovary wall, most of the fruit) not differentiated internally by a hardened endocarp (the seed wall isn’t hard, like a plum or cherry stone)’

This definition means that lots of things we call ‘berries’, aren’t. Including:

Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Loganberries, Mulberries and Juniper berries.

And lots of things we don’t call berries are, in fact, berries. Step forward:

Oranges, Bananas, Watermelons and Pumpkins (to name but a few).

And here, because I don’t have many pictures of berries, is my lunch banana, navigating his way around the new, confusing emotions of this life changing revelation.

Shh, my supervisor’s away at the moment. This is totally PhD relevant work.

This Wikipedia page goes into a lot more detail than I care to here (because I am ultimately a lazy botanist) so if you want to know the formal definitions of things you previously called ‘berries’, you can look them up there. This may result in some odd looks if you decide to ask for ‘Straw-enlarged-receptacles-with-multiple-embedded-achenes and cream’ at Wimbledon this summer, but at least you’d be botanically correct.


About adelecmj

I'm a PhD student at the Open University, where I study pollen-vegetation relationships in Ghana. I like plants, rocks, and science in general.
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2 Responses to Go home, berries, you’re drunk.

  1. Pingback: Twitter Activity on Thursday 23 January 2014 » Botanics Stories

  2. uribg says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for liking my post “Featured Plant: Jewel Orchid” on
    I love reading about botany and plants, enjoying your blog!

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