berry fern



The word berry has two meanings: one based on a botanical definition, the other on common identification. True (botanical) berries are a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary. In common parlance, however, berries are more broadly recognized as small, round or semi-oblong, usually brightly colored, sweet or sour fruit.

True berries

In botany, the berry is the most common type of fleshy fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible pericarp. The flowers of these plants have a superior ovary and one or more carpels within a thin covering and fleshy interiors. The seeds are embedded in the common flesh of the ovary. Examples of botanical berries include the tomato, grape, lychee, loquat, lucuma, plantain, avocado, persimmon, eggplant, guava, uchuva (ground cherry), and chili pepper.

Modified berries

The fruit of citrus, such as the orange, kumquat and lemon, is a modified berry called a hesperidium.

The fruit of cucumbers and their relatives are modified berries called "pepoes". A plant that bears berries is referred to as bacciferous.

True berries are distinguishable from false berries like blueberries and cranberries for which the fruit is formed from other parts of the flower, not just the ovary. Also not true berries, aggregate fruits like raspberries are collections of small fruits, and accessory fruits like strawberries are formed from parts of the plant other than the flower. As explained below, none of these is a true berry.

Common usage

In common parlance, berry refers to any small, sweet, juicy and brightly-colored fruit. By contrasting in color with their background, berries are more attractive to animals that eat them, aiding in the dispersal of the plant's seeds. Most berries are edible, but some are poisonous.

Berry colors are due to natural pigments synthesized by the plant. Medical research has uncovered medicinal properties of pigmented polyphenols, such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, and tannins and other phytochemicals localized mainly in berry skins and seeds. Berry pigments are usually antioxidants and thus have oxygen radical absorbance capacity ("ORAC") that is high among plant foods. Together with good nutrient content, ORAC distinguishes several berries within a new category of functional foods called "superfruits", a rapidly-growing multi-billion dollar industry that began in 2005 and is identified by DataMonitor as one of the top 10 food categories for growth in 2008.

A 2007 report combined four criteria — nutrient content, antioxidant qualities, medical research intensity and commercial success — giving an approximate rank of commercial activity for six exotic superfruits, including three berries — wolfberry, sea buckthorn and açaí — as the highest rated.

From 2007-8 medical literature discussing berry nutrients and potential health properties, grape, strawberry, cranberry and blueberry are the most favored research topics among berries currently.

Not a botanical berry

Many "berries" are not actual berries by the scientific definition, but fall into one of these categories:

  • False berries like blueberry and cranberry, are epigynous, made from a part of the plant other than a single ovary.
  • Compound fruit, which includes:
  • Other accessory fruit, where the edible part is not generated by the ovary, such as the strawberry for which the seed-like achenes are actually the "fruit" derived from the ovary.

Botanical parlance
True berry Pepo Hesperidium False berry (Epigynous) Aggregate fruit Multiple fruit Other accessory fruit
Common parlance Berry Blackcurrant, Redcurrant, Gooseberry Cranberry, Blueberry Blackberry, Raspberry, Boysenberry Mulberry Strawberry
Not a berry Tomato, Eggplant, Guava, Lucuma, Chili pepper, Pomegranate, Avocado, Kiwifruit, Grape Pumpkin, Gourd, Cucumber, Melon Orange, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit Banana Hedge apple Pineapple, Fig Apple, Peach, Cherry, Green bean, Sunflower seed


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