Are Your Favorite Berries True Berries... or Imposters?

Think you know your berries? You might be surprised at what differentiates true berries from their lookalikes

Oddly enough, most of us would be hard-pressed to actually differentiate true berries from pseudo-berries. Case in point: what's the most famous berry on the Internet? If you said the acai, give yourself a big fat raspberry! (Another imposter, by the way).

Despite Oprah's endorsement, the acai isn't a berry at all. It's a drupe, a kind of stone-fruit that grows on, of all things, a palm tree (hence its other name, the palm berry). Oh, you can call acais berries all you like, but that's akin to calling a cavy a guinea pig. It's common practice, but that doesn't make it real.

Other famous unberry berries

Okay, so maybe we're splitting hairs here... but that's what the Internet's all about, and it never hurts to know the truth about something so basic.

So let's get on with it. From a botanical perspective, a berry is a fleshy fruit with seeds that develops from a single ovary. That's why cherries, hackberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, and even (gasp) strawberries aren't true berries.

For the record, hackberries and cherries are also drupes, while blackberries and raspberries are aggregate fruits formed by multiple ovaries of the same flower. Mulberries are the compressed result of numerous flowers, while strawberries are accessory fruits that don't derive from ovaries at all. (It's sort of complex.)

Famous secret berries

A number of our favorite veggies are berries in disguise. Some would argue that the avocado is, though others claim it's a drupe... or maybe it's neither, but has the characteristics of both. Hard to say.

Grapes are berries, but no one ever remembers this. Then there's most of the deadly nightshade family. This particular botanical group (which includes hundreds of species) gets a bad rap, just because a few black sheep produce some of the deadliest natural poisons in the world.

What most people don't realize is that tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants are all nightshade relatives. In fact, all but peppers belong to the same genus as woody nightshade and black nightshade, Solanum. And the fruit of every single one is botanically a berry.

Keep in mind that the potato we eat isn't the plant's fruit... it's part of the root. Even potato plants produce berries if allowed to fully mature. They look like little dark green tomatoes and are quite toxic.

Berries, shmerries

So there you are -- not every berry is a berry. But that doesn't mean that we're going to stop covering botanical non-berries on this site. As Professor Quirrell said about the Troll rampaging in the Hogwarts dungeons before he fainted in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, "Just thought you ought to know."

True berries or berry mimics, all traditional "berries" are welcome here!

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