Four fruits that are true berries (size not to scale). Clockwise from right:
Concord grapes, persimmon, red gooseberries, red currants (top)

The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary. Grapes are an example. The berry is the most common type of fleshy fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible pericarp. They may have one or more carpels with a thin covering and fleshy interiors. The seeds are usually embedded in the flesh of the ovary. A plant that bears berries is said to be bacciferous. Many species of plants produce fruit that are similar to berries, but not actually berries, and these are said to be baccate.

In everyday English, "berry" is a term for any small edible fruit. These "berries" are usually juicy, round or semi-oblong, brightly coloured, sweet or sour, and do not have a stone or pit, although many seeds may be present.

Many berries, such as the tomato, are edible, but others in the same family, such as the fruits of the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and the fruits of the potato (Solanum tuberosum) are poisonous to humans. Some berries, such as Capsicum, have space rather than pulp around their seeds.

Botanical berriesEdit

Berries (USDA ARS)

Several types of common "berries" are shown, only one of which (the blueberry) is a berry by botanical definition. Blackberries are aggregate fruit composed of many drupelets, and strawberries are aggregate accessory fruit.

In botanical language, a berry is a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary; the ovary can be inferior or superior.

Examples of botanical berries include:

Modified berries Edit

The fruit of citrus, such as the orange, kumquat and lemon, is a berry with a thick rind and a very juicy interior that is given the special name hesperidium.

Berries which develop from an inferior ovary are sometimes termed epigynous berries or false berries, as opposed to true berries which develop from a superior ovary. In epigynous berries, the berry includes tissue derived from parts of the flower besides the ovary. The floral tube, formed from the basal part of the sepals, petals and stamens can become fleshy at maturity and is united with the ovary to form the fruit. Common fruits that are sometimes classified as epigynous berries include bananas, coffee, members of the genus Vaccinium (e.g., cranberries and blueberries), and members of the family Cucurbitaceae (e.g., cucumbers, melons and squash).

Another specialized term is also used for Cucurbitaceae fruits, which are modified to have a hard outer rind, and are given the special name pepo. While pepos are most common in the Cucurbitaceae, the fruits of Passiflora and Carica are sometimes also considered pepos.

Not a botanical berry Edit

Many fruits commonly referred to as berries are not actual berries by the scientific definition, but fall into one of these categories:

Drupes Edit

Drupes are fleshy fruits produced from a (usually) single-seeded ovary with a hard stony layer (called the endocarp) surrounding the seed.

Other drupe-like fruits with a single seed, that lack the stony endocarp include:

Pomes Edit

The pome fruits produced by plants in subtribe Pyrinae of family Rosaceae, such as apples and pears, have a structure (the core) that clearly separates the seeds from the ovary tissue. However, some of the smaller pomes are sometimes referred to as berries. Bright red haws from Crataegus are sometimes called hawberries. Amelanchier pomes become so soft at maturity that they resemble a blueberry and are known as Juneberries or Saskatoon berries.

Aggregate fruits Edit

Alaska wild berries

Alaska wild "berries" from the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, a mixture of true berries and aggregate fruits

Aggregate fruits contain seeds from different ovaries of a single flower. Examples include blackberry and raspberry.

Multiple fruits Edit

Multiple fruits include the fruits of multiple flowers that are merged or packed closely together. The mulberry is a berry-like example of a multiple fruit; it develops from a cluster of tiny separate flowers that become compressed as they develop into fruit.

Accessory fruits Edit

In accessory fruits, the edible part is not generated by the ovary. Berry-like examples include:

Color and potential health benefits Edit

Berries Contrast

Example of color contrast in these (mostly inedible) wild berries

By contrasting in color with their background, berries are more attractive to animals that eat them, and they therefore aid in the dispersal of the plants' seeds.

Berry colors are due to natural plant pigments, many of which are polyphenols, such as the flavonoids, anthocyanins, and tannins, localized mainly in berry skins and seeds. Berry pigments are usually antioxidants in vitro and thus have oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) that is high among plant foods. Together with good nutrient content, ORAC derived in the laboratory distinguishes several berries within a new category of functional foods called "superfruits". However, there is no physiological evidence established to date that berry polyphenols have actual antioxidant value within the human body, and it remains invalid to claim polyphenols have antioxidant health value on product labels in the United States and Europe.

See alsoEdit


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

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