A Banana Is A Berry?!? Why Every Fruit Type You Know Is Wrong

How many berries are in this picture?

fruit-3078152_640.jpg

Two.  Wait, what?

all the fruits.gif

Get ready for a truth bomb:

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A strawberry is not a berry.  Bananas, however, are berries.

Why?  Well, first of all, what even is a fruit?

confused fruit lady.png

It’s ok, confused fruit lady: fruits are just mature ovaries.  (Yeah, you eat the equivalent of plant uteruses, get over yourself.)

A flower can have multiple ovaries inside it, and one fruit can be made of multiple flowers.  Botanists define fruits based on how many ovaries and flowers make them up.

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There are three types of fruits.

1. SIMPLE FRUIT– one flower, one ovary

A banana is a simple fruit!  It develops from only one ovary.

spongebob .gif

One subtype of simple fruit is a berry.  It’s just a simple fruit where the mature ovary wall (“pericarp”) is fleshy.

Because bananas are simple fruits and have a totally fleshy pericarp, they’re berries!

halle_berry.gif
Dr. Dre not even a doctor.  Soulja Boy not even a soldier.  Halle Berry not even a berry

Another common type of simple fruit is a drupe.  Drupes are also fleshy, but the innermost part of their ovary wall (the “endocarp”) is hard and stony.  Peaches, plums, and cherries are drupes.

peach.png
Mmm, fleshy outer ovary wall.  Just peachy. 

The flower has a lot of stamens bearing pollen, but only one pistil leading to one single ovary.  See if you can spot the pistil: it’s lighter colored and thicker (and has a big yellow arrow pointing to it).

Here’s a time-lapse video where you can actually watch one flower turn into one cherry:

 

2. AGGREGATE FRUIT– one flower, multiple ovaries

A strawberry is an aggregate fruit!  It comes from a single flower containing multiple ovaries.

many thumbs.gif

 

strawberry
Strawberry not even a berry.   Strawberry not even straw.

That whole fuzzy mass in the middle of the flower is just pistils.  Every single one leads to a different ovary.  (I put five arrows and then got lazy.)  There’s one ovary in the flower for every individual seed on a mature strawberry.  That’s… a lot of ovaries.

Strawberries are technically a special type of aggregate fruit called an aggregate accessory fruit.  Most of their fleshy deliciousness comes from “accessory tissue” that isn’t part of the ovary wall.

Here’s the time-lapse:

 

3. MULTIPLE FRUIT– multiple flowers

A pineapple is a multiple fruit!  It comes from multiple flowers.

spongebobs.png

pineapple.png
Pineapple not even pine.  Pineapple not even an apple.  (Apples are simple fruits called pomes; pines don’t really have fruits.)

In the pineapple flower head, you can see many different individual flowers.  So multiple fruits are, like… multiple fruits.

Yeah, that’s right, one pineapple is like dozens of fruits mashed together into one.  And that’s before you even blend it into a piña colada.

Here’s the time-lapse.

Pineapples are definitely not berries.  But you already knew that.  Give yourself a pat on the back!  And a piña colada!

weird pineapple.gif

 

So now you know the secret behind so-called “berries”.

air quotes.gif

 

lies all lies
(Aggregate fruit made of drupes, aggregate fruit made of drupes, aggregate accessory fruit, drupe)

 

So next time your friend calls some strawberry slime a “berry smoothie”, you have botanists’ permission to <<go bananas>>.

Etymological Note: 

The modern English word berry is from the Old English berie, which was in use before the 12th century CE.   People were saying “berry” waaaay before botanists got their shoots together.  So really this is mostly botanists’ fault.  Although it is always good to think about the biology of where your food comes from.

Interestingly, blueberries are berries!  We got one right, at least…

 

Sources & Further Reading: 

Simpson, Michael J.   Plant Systematics.    Elsevier, 2006.

 

3 thoughts on “A Banana Is A Berry?!? Why Every Fruit Type You Know Is Wrong

  1. Thank you for this post! The “is it a fruit?” conversation is one that E. and I had to have very early on. If only we could have jumped into the future for this excellent Plant Humor post! Instead we had to make do with a YouTube video. Ever since then, we gleefully cheer “aggregate drupe!” whenever the opportunity arises. Of course, one doesn’t encounter many aggregate drupes in Iceland, so this is a rare celebratory occasion.

    Liked by 2 people

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