While in college a friend of mine introduced me to a beautiful, intelligent woman. Either inadvertently or on purpose, right off the bat, he exposed my love for botany. Confused and unimpressed, she asked what I found so interesting about plants, and naturally I became as articulate as a watermelon.
I was reminded of that event last night at a birthday party when my niece came out of the blue to declare that a watermelon is a berry. “Almost,” I said. “It’s an accessory berry because of the way its rind and flesh form.” And of course, another cutie gave up on me.
Of the strawberry, blackberry and raspberry, only the last comes close to being a berry. The first two aren’t even fleshy fruits; the tomato, which many still regard as a vegetable, is a pure berry, and lemons are modified berries. Here’s why.
There are five types of fleshy fruits.
(1) In the pome, which as the name suggests includes the apple, pear and less popular hawthorn, the flower’s receptacle or floral tube becomes the edible part, and it surrounds the ex-ovary, that tough shell around the seeds.
(2) In the drupe (peaches, plums, cherries) we’re eating the outer wall of the ovary. The inner wall is stony (the pit) and it contains the seed, usually laced with a cyanide -related compound known as amygdalin, yielding anywhere from 200 to 4700 mg of HCN per kiligram of nectarine or bitter almond seeds, respectively.
(3) In the pure berry, the entire ovary becomes fleshy, and it can have one to many seeds. Examples include grapes, tomatoes, eggplants, kiwis and persimmons. The raspberry is an aggregate of berries because it’s a fusion of many ovaries.
(4) The pepo, an accessory berry, has its receptacle and ovary wall fusing to make the hard rind. We’re basically eating the rest of the ex-ovary. Examples include watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and squash.
(5) Citrus fruits such as lemon and oranges are hesperidia or modified berries because the ovary wall becomes the rind, and again we’re eating the rest of what was the ovary.
The strawberry is not a berry, nor is most of it a fleshy fruit. The fleshy, edible part comes from the receptacle of the flower, and the botanical fruits are miniature and surround the seeds. The blackberry is also not a berry and falls in the same category as the strawberry.
Now that we’re done, you can bury all these berry-facts, unless you believe, as I do , that there will soon be a revived interest in natural history and botany!