Why Blackberries and Apples Are Not Berries

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 latter 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.

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In the apple (a pome) the fleshy fruit develops from the receptacle. the ovary and seeds is what people normally discard.

(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 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.

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(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.

The cantaloupe like all melons is an accessory berry or a pepo due to its rind.
The cantaloupe like all melons is an accessory berry or a pepo due to its rind.
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Another modified berry, but specifically a hesperidium.

(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.

That green structure is actually one of the many fruits in a strawberry.
That green structure is actually one of the many fruits in a 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!

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2 thoughts on “Why Blackberries and Apples Are Not Berries

    • It’s an aggregate accessory fruit—the fleshy part of the strawberry is not from the plant’s ovaries, as I point out. When we call something a berry all of our lives and since it has a similar texture to other things called berries, the label sticks in our minds….I wrote the blog, not to make people feel bad about calling the strawberry a berry, but to show how plants and fruits are even more interesting when we learn about how they develop.

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