Druping Under the Weight of Botanical Knowledge

I’m very glad I recently took an evening class in botany. For one thing, I now know what a drupe is.

A large berry.
A large berry.

You know when you are reading about some plant, say a serviceberry (Amelanchier), and the text says that the fruit is a small drupe? I no longer think that “drupe” is some random typo that sounds vaguely insulting. Now I know that serviceberries have drupes, not berries, and so should properly be called servicedrupes. This is an even worse name than serviceberry, but more accurate botanically, which is what is really important.

Drupes, you see, have a single seed. Berries have multiple seeds. Tomatoes are berries. Really. So are blueberries. To botanists, tomatoes and blueberries are practically indistinguishable, which is why I don’t visit when they are making spaghetti. (Tomatoes are berries botanically, but are vegetables legally as determined by the US Supreme Court in Nix v. Hedden.)

You know what else is a berry? A watermelon. Yup. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Watermelons and other melons are pepos, berries with a hard, thick rind. So on summer picnics we should be enjoying some juicy waterpepo, or waterberry. Oh, and an orange is a hesperidium, a berry with a leathery skin.

Strawberries have multiple seeds, so you might think they are berries. You’d be wrong. A strawberry is an aggregate fruit, because the fleshy part is derived from many ovaries. Each one of the seeds counts as  a single fruit called an achene, so the famous Ingmar Bergman movie should be called “Wild Aggregate Achenes.” When I say achene people often respond: “Bless you!”

Aggregate Straw-Achenes.
Aggregate Achenes.

Peaches and apricots are drupes. Cherries are drupes, so you could say that life is just a bowl of drupes, though that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Almonds are drupes, not nuts, but hazelnuts are nuts. They just are, OK? Walnuts are a subject of some controversy. Some botanists think they are nuts, but others think they are drupey nuts, or nutty drupes. I am not kidding.

berry club
My thanks to JL Westover of www.mrlovenstein.com for permission to use this cartoon.

So I am grateful to my botany instructor. I now know that some berries are not berries. I know that other things are berries even though the thought would be absurd to the uninitiated. And while some nuts are nuts, other nuts are  not nuts, while still other nuts might or might not be nuts.

And now I have shared this knowledge with you.

You’re welcome.

65 Comments on “Druping Under the Weight of Botanical Knowledge

  1. Thank you. Although I now have a headache and will dream of drupes, pepos, and achenes tonight (along with sugarplums). I’m also hungry, so I think some strawberry…er sweet aggregate fruit…jam on toast is in order.

    • You could also have some cherries. Cherries are drupes, so you could say that life is just a bowl of drupes. Doesn’t sound quite the same, though.

  2. Well thank you for fodder at my net garden club meeting. The Supreme Court reference harkened me back when the ReaganAdministration declared ketchup was a vegetable in school lunch programs to save money.l

  3. you can understand why we all just say berry so much simpler. I enjoyed this post, learnt lots

  4. This is absolutely amazing! I hope you’ll be taking another class and sharing the outcome with us again 🙂 very enjoyable post!

  5. Thanks for an enlightening, if somewhat nutty, lesson! I am most amazed about the watermelon, which truthfully should be called a waterberry! Botanists must have a lot of fun figuring all of this out.

  6. Great explanation. So many terms to remember in botany. Bipinnate vs. composite, bracts vs. petals. It can be confusing at times!

  7. Thanks for the reminder. Even though I learned this in Master Gardening school, I always misname and confuse the berries and drupes. Not that I don’t know, just am careless. I agree, drupe is a goofy name.

  8. Thanks for the drupes tour. Here’s hoping we don’t let too much information diminish the taste of all this good food. Nah, not a chance. A strawberry will taste as sweet. Cheers!

  9. Thanks for the lesson! I am starting to study a bit of extra plant biology myself. Looking forward to some more lessons!

  10. Pingback: Flowery Prose link-a-thon – December 2012. | Flowery Prose

  11. I’m going to have to read and re-read this post in several sittings since it’s all a bit too much to take in at once. Even then I’ll probably have forgotten it by next week! I feel like I should be taking notes, will there be a short quiz?

  12. I love this post! Well, I love gardeners with a sense of humor who write about botany. Fabulous.

  13. Reblogged this on gardeninacity and commented:

    A recent cartoon by the talented JL Westover, plus the general holiday merriment, has inspired me to reblog this post from December, 2012. Hope you like it.

  14. This is great! Thanks for the informative and humorous post. Now I’m headed to the library…

  15. It’s all a little nuts. Unless it’s an aggregate fruit. Berry berry confusing. Must go to Stonehenge and ask an ancient drupid. Loved this post!

  16. Ha ha, brilliant. I remember the revelation about berries, drupes, etc, when I studied for my Cert in Horticulture. Botany is fascinating. And can be confusing.

  17. Brilliant indeed. What a great way to learn some botanical terms. Methinks that you may have written this tongue-in-cheek or perhaps with a drupe in your cheek. One can only hope you didn’t gag on the stone.

  18. Niall is eager to learn: What are nuts? Besides you after that botany class.

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