fruit, matured ovary of the pistil of a flower, containing the seed. After the egg nucleus, or ovum, has been fertilized (see fertilization) and the embryo plantlet begins to form, the surrounding ovule (see pistil) develops into a seed and the ovary wall (pericarp) around the ovule becomes the fruit. The pericarp consists of three layers of tissue: the thin outer exocarp, which becomes the
; the thicker mesocarp; and the inner endocarp, immediately surrounding the ovule. A flower may have one or more simple pistils or a compound pistil made up of two or more fused simple pistils (each called a carpel); different arrangements give rise to different types of fruit. A new variety of fruit is obtained as a hybrid in plant breeding or may develop spontaneously by mutation.
Types of Fruits
Fruits are classified according to the arrangement from which they derive. There are four types—simple, aggregate, multiple, and accessory fruits. Simple fruits develop from a single ovary of a single flower and may be fleshy or dry. Principal fleshy fruit types are the berry, in which the entire pericarp is soft and pulpy (e.g., the grape, tomato, banana, pepo, hesperidium, and blueberry) and the drupe, in which the outer layers may be pulpy, fibrous, or leathery and the endocarp hardens into a pit or stone enclosing one or more seeds (e.g., the peach, cherry, olive, coconut, and walnut). The name fruit is often applied loosely to all edible plant products and specifically to the fleshy fruits, some of which (e.g., eggplant, tomatoes, and squash) are commonly called vegetables. Dry fruits are divided into those whose hard or papery shells split open to release the mature seed (dehiscent fruits) and those that do not split (indehiscent fruits). Among the dehiscent fruits are the legume (e.g., the pod of the pea and bean), which splits at both edges, and the follicle, which splits on only one side (e.g., milkweed and larkspur); others include the dry fruits of the poppy, snapdragon, lily, and mustard. Indehiscent fruits include the single-seeded achene of the buttercup and the composite flowers; the caryopsis (grain); the nut (e.g., acorn and hazelnut); and the fruits of the carrot and parsnip (not to be confused with their edible fleshy roots).
An aggregate fruit (e.g., blackberry and raspberry) consists of a mass of small drupes (drupelets), each of which developed from a separate ovary of a single flower. A multiple fruit (e.g., pineapple and mulberry) develops from the ovaries of many flowers growing in a cluster. Accessory fruits contain tissue derived from plant parts other than the ovary; the strawberry is actually a number of tiny achenes (miscalled seeds) outside a central pulpy pith that is the enlarged receptacle or base of the flower. The core of the pineapple is also receptacle (stem) tissue. The best-known accessory fruit is the pome (e.g., apple and pear), in which the fleshy edible portion is swollen stem tissue and the true fruit is the central core. The skin of the banana is also stem tissue, as is the rind of the pepo (berrylike fruit) of the squash, cucumber, and melon.
The Role of Fruits in Seed Dispersal
The structure of a fruit often facilitates the dispersal of its seeds. The "wings" of the maple, elm, and ailanthus fruits and the "parachutes" of the dandelion and the thistle are blown by the wind; burdock, cocklebur, and carrot fruits have barbs or hooks that cling to fur and clothing; and the buoyant coconut may float thousands of miles from its parent tree. Some fruits (e.g., witch hazel and violet) explode at maturity, scattering their seeds. A common method of dispersion is through the feces of animals that eat fleshy fruits containing seeds covered by indigestible coats.
Fruit refers to anything that contains seeds. From a botanical standpoint, a fruit is the mature or ripened ovary that contains a flower's seeds. Therefore, fruit may be dry and hard as well as soft and juicy, and many of the foods commonly thought of as vegetables are in fact fruit. Flowering plants produce fruit either to protect their seeds or to help the seed be better dispersed or scattered over a wide area.
As the seed-bearing part of a flowering plant, fruit develops and grows from a flower's ovaries. After a flower has been pollinated and its ovules (female sex cells) have been fertilized by a pollen grain (male sex cells), the flower begins to change. Since the flower no longer needs them, its stamens (male reproductive organs) and pistils (female reproductive organs) wither and the petals fall off. The ovary, a hollow structure located near the base of the flower that contains the ovules or female sex cells, starts to grow into fruit. The ovules become the seeds. The plant may produce a fruit containing one or more seeds, depending on the species.
Horticulturalists, or people who grow crops for commercial purposes, have a different way of defining fruit than do botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) since both plants and fruits contain seeds. To fruit growers, neither nuts nor cucumbers are considered to be a fruit, but they are definitely fruit to a botanist since they both contain seeds. Unlike the sometimes complicated rules used by horticulturalists, botanists classify a fruit by its structure, designating fruit as either simple or compound. A simple fruit is formed from a single ripened ovary. A compound fruit is the product of two or more ovaries. By far, the majority of fruit are simple, such as peaches, nuts, and berries. There are two types of simple fruit: fleshy or dry, depending upon their texture. Fleshy fruits are exactly what they sound like and come in three types: berries, drupes, and pomes. To botanists, berries include bananas and tomatoes since they have a completely fleshy ovary wall; drupes have a single pit or stone for a seed, like olives or peaches; and pomes have an inedible core, like an apple or a pear. Simple dry fruit include grains like corn and rice, as well as the more obvious pods of beans and peas. Compound fruits, which have developed from several ovaries, are fewer in number than simple fruit. There are two types of compound fruit: aggregate and multiple fruit. In an aggregate fruit, like an orange or a raspberry, the fruit developed from a single flower that had several ovaries. Multiple fruits are less common and have ovaries from several flowers. The fig and the pineapple are examples of multiple fruits that develop from a cluster of flowers on a single stem.
Fruit can also be described by the manner in which they disperse their seeds into the environment. Fleshy fruit ripen, fall to the ground, and decay, leaving their seed to possibly germinate (begin to grow or sprout) and start a new plant. Plants have evolved systems to avoid the overcrowding that would result if new plants grew only near the parent plant. Therefore many fleshy fruits are edible and very tasty to animals that either spit out the seeds as they eat or consume the seeds with the fruit and eventually pass the undigested seeds in their feces, depositing them somewhere else. Nuts and other dry fruits are carried off by animals and buried for later eating. Those fruits left buried may germinate in the spring. Coconuts have a waterproof covering around their single seed, allowing them to be dispersed by the tides. Other dry fruits have burrs or thistles around their seeds that catch onto an animal's fur and are transported elsewhere for germination.
Fruit is very important to the human diet. Many of the fleshy fruits contain a high content of sugar and important vitamins needed by humans and other animals. Fruit also provides humans and other animals a means of obtaining the energy that plants have harnessed from the Sun. Without fruits, the human body lacks the nutrients and vitamins to fight off certain diseases.
fruit / froōt/ • n. 1. the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food: tropical fruits such as mangoes and papaya | eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. ∎ Bot. the seed-bearing structure of a plant, e.g., an acorn. ∎ the result or reward of work or activity: the pupils began to appreciate the fruits of their labors the journal was the first fruit of the creative partnership. ∎ archaic or poetic/lit. natural produce that can be used for food: we give thanks for the fruits of the earth. ∎ archaic offspring: she couldn't bear not to see the fruit of her womb. 2. inf., offens. a male homosexual. • v. [intr.] (of a tree or other plant) produce fruit, typically at a specified time: the trees fruit very early | [as n.] (fruiting) cover strawberries with cloches to encourage early fruiting. PHRASES: bear fruit have good results: their efforts finally bore fruit in 1993 in a surprise decision by the Supreme Court. in fruit (of a tree or plant) at the stage of producing fruit.
low-hanging fruit something easily achieved or overcome; the expression dates from the late 20th century, and the image may be associated with the idea in cherry-pick.
when all fruit fails, welcome haws often used of someone taking an older or otherwise unsuitable lover (haws, the red fruit of the hawthorn, are contrasted with fruits generally eaten as food). The saying is recorded from the early 18th century.
See also Dead Sea fruit, first fruits, forbidden fruit, September blow soft, till the fruit's in the loft, stolen fruit is sweet, the tree is known by its fruit.
So fruit vb. bear fruit. XIV. fruiterer XV. Extension with -ER1 of fruiter (XV) — (O)F. fruitier (see -ER2). fruitful XIII. fruitless ineffectual XIV; unproductive XV; unavailing XIX.