Did you know that a tomato is not a vegetable, but is actually a fruit? You have probably heard that before, but did you know that a jalapeno pepper is also a fruit? What makes a fruit a fruit and a vegetable a vegetable?
Vegetables come from the root (carrot), stem (rhubarb), or the leaf (lettuce) of a plant. Fruits come from the flowers. Think of a pumpkin. First, you see a flower, then the petals fall off and there is a little pumpkin left behind that grows until it’s ripe enough to eat. As the seeds inside a pollinated flower start to grow, a fleshy part surrounding the seeds, called the ovary, thickens and grows into the fruit that we, and animals, eat. Some fruits have one seed inside, and others have several. Peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, and beans are all fruits—when you cut them open, you can see the seeds inside.
We group different types of animals into families, such as mammals, birds, amphibians, etc., and we do the same with fruits. Berries come from a single ovary, like tomatoes, kiwi, chili pepper, eggplant, and blueberries. A hesperidium is a berry that has a thick soft rind, like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. A pepo is another kind of berry, one that has a hard rind, like melons and squash. An aggregate fruit happens when there are lots of ovaries in one flower that get fertilized, like a blackberry. Each little piece of a blackberry is a fruit and they all grow together. A multiple fruit is similar to an aggregate fruit. A multiple fruit happens when there is a cluster of flowers that gets fertilized and grows together in a mass, like a pineapple or mulberry. An accessory fruit is also called false fruit because it doesn’t come from the ovary, but rather the surrounding tissue of the flower. Apples grow from the hypanthium, which is right under the ovary, but is still part of the flower. Next time your parents tell you to eat your veggies, see if you can figure out if they really are veggies, or actually fruits!
Photo above right: A baby pumpkin growing on the vine. The shriveled, brown part at the bottom of the pumpkin is the dried remains of the flower. Photo: Clayton O’Neill, Flickr.com CC.
Photo lower right: A sliced red pepper shows all the seeds inside. Photo: Gabrielly Ludlow, Flickr.com CC.