The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary. Grapes and avocados are two common examples. 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. The seeds are usually embedded in the fleshy interior of the ovary, but 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").
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.
Examples of botanical berries include:
- Avocado (Persea americana) a one-seeded berry
- Barberry (Berberis; Berberidaceae)
- Bearberry (Arctostaphylos spp.)
- Coffee berries
- Crowberry (Empetrum spp.)
- Currant (Ribes spp.; Grossulariaceae), red, black, and white types
- Elderberry (Sambucus niger; Caprifoliaceae)
- Gooseberry (Ribes spp.; Grossulariaceae)
- Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica)
- Garcinia gummi-gutta, Garcinia mangostana, and Garcinia indica (Vrikshamla)
- Goji berries (Wolfberry)
- Grape, Vitis vinifera
- Honeysuckle: the berries of some species are edible and are called honeyberries, but others are poisonous (Lonicera spp.; Caprifoliaceae)
- Lingonberry/Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
- Mayapple (Podophyllum spp.; Berberidaceae)
- Nannyberry or sheepberry (Viburnum spp.; Caprifoliaceae)
- Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium; Berberidaceae)
- Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), not to be confused with the strawberry (Fragaria)
- Tomato and other species of the family Solanaceae
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.
Fruits not botanical berries
Many fruits commonly referred to as berries are not actual berries by the scientific definition, but fall into one of the following categories:
Other drupe-like fruits with a single seed, that lack the stony endocarp include Sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides, Elaeagnaceae), an achene surrounded by the swollen hypanthium, which provides the fleshy layer.
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.
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.
In accessory fruits, the edible part is not generated by the ovary. Berry-like examples include:
- Strawberry - the aggregate of seed-like achenes is actually the "fruit", derived from an aggregate of ovaries, and the fleshy part develops from the receptacle.
- Gurbir, Duchesnea indica - structured just like a strawberry
- Sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera; Polygonaceae) - the fruit is a dry capsule surrounded by fleshy calyx
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) - the fruit is a dry capsule surrounded by fleshy calyx
Color and potential health benefits
Berries are typically of a contrasting color to their background (often of green leaves), making them visible and attractive to frugivorous animals and birds. This assists the wide 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. However, there is no physiological evidence established to date that berry polyphenols have actual antioxidant value within the human body, and it is not permitted to claim that polyphenols have antioxidant health value on product labels in the United States and Europe.
- Armstrong, Wayne P. "Identification Of Major Fruit Types". Wayne's Word: An On-Line Textbook of Natural History. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
- Gupta, P.K. (2007). Genetics Classical To Modern. Rastogi Publications. ISBN 978-81-7133-896-2.
- "A Systematic Treatment of Fruit Types". Worldbotanical.com. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
- The American Heritage Science Dictionary. Google Books. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
- Wu X, Beecher GR, Holden JM, Haytowitz DB, Gebhardt SE, Prior RL (June 2004). "Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the United States". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 52 (12): 4026–37. doi:10.1021/jf049696w. PMID 15186133.
- Guidance for Industry, Food Labeling; Nutrient Content Claims; Definition for "High Potency" and Definition for "Antioxidant" for Use in Nutrient Content Claims for Dietary Supplements and Conventional Foods U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, June 2008
- EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA)2, 3 (2010). "Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to various food(s)/food constituent(s) and protection of cells from premature aging, antioxidant activity, antioxidant content and antioxidant properties, and protection of DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061" (PDF). EFSA Journal (Parma, Italy: European Food Safety Authority) 8 (2): 1489. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1489.
- Bowling, B.L. (2005). The Berry Grower's Companion. Timber Press. ISBN 978-0-88192-726-9
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- The National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens – Description of berries
- Encarta.msn.com (Archived 2009-10-31) – Differentiation between true berries, pepos, and hesperidia
- United States National Berry Crops Initiative
- Berry Health Benefits Network – Scientists working on the health properties of berries