How many berries are in this picture?
Two. Wait, what?
Get ready for a truth bomb:
A strawberry is not a berry. Bananas, however, are berries.
Why? Well, first of all, what even is a fruit?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
So now you know the secret behind so-called “berries”.
So next time your friend calls some strawberry slime a “berry smoothie”, you have botanists’ permission to <<go bananas>>.
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.