The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single flower and containing one 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, that have air rather than pulp around their seeds.
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, brightly coloured, sweet or sour, and do not have a stone or pit, although many seeds may be present.
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:
Drupes are fleshy fruits produced from a (usually) single-seeded ovary with a hard stony layer (called the endocarp) surrounding the seed. Familiar examples include the stonefruits of Prunus species (peaches, plums and cherries), olives, coconut and bayberry. 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.
Aggregate fruits contain seeds from different ovaries of a single flower. Examples commonly called "berries" include members of the Rubus genus, such as blackberry and raspberry. Other large aggregate fruits, such as soursop (Annona muricata) are not usually called "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. Although berry pigments have antioxidant properties in vitro, there is no physiological evidence established to date that berry polyphenols have actual antioxidant functions within the human body. Consequently, it is not permitted to claim that foods containing polyphenols have antioxidant health value on product labels in the United States and Europe.
National commercial production
|Berries production in thousand tonnes (2012)
Aggregated data from: FAOSTAT
This includes blueberries, cranberries, currants,
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- Bowling, B.L. (2005). The Berry Grower's Companion. Timber Press. ISBN 978-0-88192-726-9
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