Why a Strawberry isn’t a Berry

berries

Picture by Couleur – Pixabay

People can usually grasp the fact that tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are fruits rather than vegetables. However, there can still be quite a bit of confusion when a person finds out that a strawberry isn’t a berry but a watermelon is. This goes contrary to what most people have grown up believing. Still, it is true.

A berry is the swollen edible flesh of a fertilized plant ovum that contains and protects the seeds of the plant. Though this is just a little bit technical, it is pretty straightforward. The ovum is the base of the flower and in a berry, when it is pollinated it swells up to protect the seeds as they are developing. Blueberries are common examples of berries. The seeds are contained inside of the fruit, which is the swollen fertilized ovum of the flowers, designed to protect the seeds and to aid in their dispersal. 

However, the same is true of both watermelons and grapes. In both cases, the edible flesh that we consume is the flesh of the ovum that contains the seeds. Naturally, in the case of blueberries the seeds are small and inconsequential, so we usually swallow them too, when we eat the fruit. With watermelons and grapes, except for the ‘seedless’ varieties, we normally don’t swallow the seeds if we can help it. The fact still remains that the fruit that we eat is the flesh of the swollen and fertilized ovum that contains and protects the seeds, so grapes and watermelons are berries.

strawberry

Picture by Hans – Pixabay

A look at a strawberry is all it takes to realize that it isn’t a berry. The flesh is indeed the swollen ovum of a fertilized flower, but the seeds are on the outside of the flesh. They are neither contained by nor protected by the flesh, so strawberries aren’t berries, they are just fruits.

What about peppers, cantaloupes and squashes? The seeds are on the inside, so are these berries too? The answer is no. In all three of these, the seeds are attached to a membrane and it isn’t the membrane that is normally consumed. Because of the internal arrangement of the fruit, it is usually an easy matter to scoop out the seeds of cantaloupes and squashes or to cut them out of peppers, all while leaving the edible flesh behind. This can’t be easily done with a watermelon, because the watermelon seeds aren’t attached to a membrane. So peppers, cantaloupes and squashes are all fruits, but none of them are berries.

Considering all of this, a person might be inclined to think that peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums and cherries would be berries. They aren’t, though. The seeds of all of these are contained inside a hard shell or “stone”. It is the stone that protects the seeds, not the flesh that we eat. In fact, all of these are sometimes called stone fruits because of the structure of the pit that contains the seed.

Naturally, people tend not to call watermelons or grapes berries, though they are every bit as much a berry as is a blueberry, currant, service berry or gooseberry. People also tend to call strawberries berries, though they aren’t berries any more than corn or walnuts are. In the end, it probably makes no difference at all, but it is good to know the technical differences. After all, cucumbers and tomatoes are still found in the vegetable section of stores, though they are fruits and not vegetables. Knowing that they are fruits also does absolutely nothing to change the taste or healthy aspects of the food.

The same is true of berries. Knowing that a watermelon is a berry doesn’t change how good it tastes nor how good it is for you. Knowing that a strawberry isn’t a berry is most likely not going to persuade anyone not to eat them, nor should it. There should just be far less confusion about what berries are. It should be a point of interest rather than a point of confusion.




  • Comments

      1. Profile photo of Rex Trulove
        Rex Trulove Post author

        Like so many things, it makes sense once it is explained. People often just don’t take the time to explain it. 😀

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne

      This is a great topic for a post! I love the whole question of classifying plants. Yes, strawberries are actually an aggregate fruit (as are raspberries) because they develop from more than on ovary and the seeds are on the outside. But bananas, kiwi, tomatoes and cucumbers are technically all berries 🙂

      1. Profile photo of Rex Trulove
        Rex Trulove Post author

        Yes, they are, but the fact that so few people know it is a good example of how the word has never gotten out about what a berry actually is. That is astonishing, because it is so simple.

      2. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne

        To be fair, I’m sure the word “berry” is older than the scientific definition. And that definition of what, botanically speaking, qualifies as a berry has probably been refined over the years as we’ve gained more understanding of plant biology. Lots of plants and animals get reclassified as we learn more about them, too.

      3. Profile photo of Rex Trulove
        Rex Trulove Post author

        I have little doubt about that, Kyla. The classification will probably continue to be refined, too. That is especially true because new plants species are found quite often. Some don’t fit neatly into the current classification system, so more work still needs to be done on it. One great example of some of the issues that currently exist is the difference between the Gaylussacia genus and the Vaccinium genus. The first are the huckleberries and the second includes the blueberries. They are totally different genera, but the plants look alike, the berries look alike and the berries taste alike. There is so much confusion about how they differ that huckleberries are often grouped into Vaccinium.

        The confusion spills over, too. Blueberries can be transplanted and grown in home gardens if the soil is acid enough, but huckleberries don’t like to be transplanted and are so picky that it is very difficult to grow them. Many plant nurseries will sell people bushes they say are huckleberries, but they aren’t. They are blueberry bushes. The owner of one nursery actually told me vigorously that there was absolutely no difference between the two berries. I know better, but didn’t argue. His mind was made up, and it all stems from the confusion. (No pun intended.)

        My belief is that the two berries should at least be considered universally as within the same genus, though different species. They are far more alike than they are different. However, I don’t make the rules and until it all changes, some botanists will say that they are just different species and others will say that they are completely different genera.

    2. Profile photo of Andria Perry
      Andria Perry

      Whatever! I love the ovum.

      I try not to think to much about what I am eating or I will be the know it all at the dinner table 🙂 haha!

      Very interesting so I stumbled this.

      1. Profile photo of Rex Trulove
        Rex Trulove Post author

        I love writing about things that are confusing to many people that really don’t need to be. Oh, I don’t think about it when I’m devouring them, but that is mostly because something about the bending elbow, opening mouth, chewing and swallowing seems to disengage my brain. LOL

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