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Classification of Fruits

How fruits are classified

To think of fruits may conjure up mental pictures of bountiful cornucopias overflowing with these desserts from nature in every shape and all the colors of the rainbow. Even in the times of the pharaohs, fruits were transported, sometimes with great difficulty, across continents and seas to eager consumers. Early explorers and migrating peoples carried fruits and their seeds to all parts of the world, so now many are grown in areas far from their original home.

For centuries, dates were cultivated in North Africa, but now are also grown in California. Pineapples were indigenous to South America. Lemons and limes originated in India; oranges, now a daily component in many North American breakfasts, came from southeastern Asia; and the kumquat was brought to North America from China and Japan. The kiwifruit from New Zealand is one of the newest fruits to have spread from its original home to North American markets.

Fruits are the ripened ovaries and adjacent parts of a plant’s flowers. They are classified according to the type of flower from which they develop: simple, aggregate, or multiple.

  • Simple fruits develop from one flower and include drupes, pomes, and citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, kumquats, and mandarins—tangerines and tangelos).
  • Aggregate fruits develop from several ovaries in one flower. They include blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
  • Multiple fruits develop from a cluster of several flowers. Pineapples and figs are two examples.

Classification Exceptions of Fruits

The confusion over whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable even attracted the attention in 1893 of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled it was a vegetable. Botanists beg to differ; botanically, the tomato grows from a plant’s flower, so it is technically a fruit even though it is not sweet. Squash, okra, green beans, and cucumbers, too, are botanically fruits. Nuts are actually fruits, also, but they are seeds instead of fleshy fruits, so they are grouped separately. Confusion of the opposite sort is stirred up by rhubarb, which is really a vegetable, but is usually treated as a fruit.

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