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Dec 23, 2013 by JOHN SUMMERLY
Know Your Berries

Our typical impression of berries revolves around strawberries, raspberries and blackberries , however from a botanical perspective, these are not berries at all. In fact, according to world botanical and the scientific definition of a berry, a banana is more of a berry than any of those above.

There are many methods in which botanists attempt to define and employ fruit terminology in a manner that might convey natural relationships. Unfortunately, familiar terms such as berry, drupe and capsule, whose meanings are generally understood and widely employed, are also recognized to occur across a broad spectrum of foods that do not necessarily exhibit natural relationships.

To exemplify the lack of relationship to one flower: (a) one flower that possesses a compound ovary of united carpels develops one fruit, e.g. tomato (b) but one flower that possesses several separate carpels develops an aggregate of several fruits, i.e., ‘the aggregate fruit’, e.g., strawberry; while (c) a flower cluster of many flowers develops one fruit, i.e., the ‘multiple fruit’, e.g., mulberry. The essential characteristics of a fruit so defined are therefore: (1) its origin from ovarian material and accessories’ and (2) its separateness at maturity.

Although common knowledge to botanical experts, the standardized meanings of fruit and nut terms systemically described in are surprising to many who discover that the foods we classify as fruits, nuts, berries, etc, are not those at all.

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 (its three layes). 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 (there are some non-fleshy exceptions, such as peppers). A plant that bears berries is said to be bacciferous or baccate (a fruit that resembles a berry, whether it actually is a berry or not, can also be called "baccate").

Examples of botanical berries include:

  • Avocado (a one-seeded berry)
  • Banana
  • Barberry
  • Bearberry
  • Blueberry
  • Coffee berries
  • Cranberry
  • Crowberry
  • Currant
  • Elderberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Indian gooseberry
  • Goji berries (Wolfberry)
  • Grape
  • Honeysuckle
  • Lingonberry/Cowberry
  • Persimmon
  • Mayapple
  • Nannyberry
  • Oregon-grape
  • Pumpkin
  • Tomato
  • Watermelon

Modified berries such as the orange, kumquat and lemon, are berries 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.

Examples of fruits which are NOT botanical berries include:

DRUPES such as olives, plums, peaches, cherries, hackberries and bayberries

AGGREGATE FRUITS such as blackberries and raspberries

ACCESSORY FRUIT such as strawberries, sea grapes and wintergreen.


John Summerly is nutritionist, herbologist, and homeopathic practitioner. He is a leader in the natural health community and consults athletes, executives and most of all parents of children on the benefits of complementary therapies for health and prevention.

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