Fruits and seeds1

Reculer pour mieux sauter or, what I should have started the fruit lab with...

Fruits are matured ovaries. These two illustrations are meant to reinforce the connection between the ovary (or ovaries) of a flower and the fruit (or fruitlets) into which it matures.


Common fruit types in the Ontario flora and in the supermarket

From multiple flowers in a single inflorescence

multiple fruits - made up of simple fruits as described below, each developing from an individual flower in the same inflorescence.

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Maclura pomifera - multiple fruit. Photo E. Harris, © 1999 Royal Ontario Musem

From multiple pistils in a single flower

aggregate fruits - individual fruitlets will belong to one of the types described below.

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Anemone canadensis - aggregate of achenes. © 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

From a single pistil

simple fruits

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fleshy fruits

fruit wall fleshy only

berry - Seeds are embedded in the fruit flesh; additional examples include avocado, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, and blueberries and cranberries. Apples and pears and the other similar fruits produced by members of Rosaceae subfamily Maloideae can also be considered berries.

Actaea pachypoda - berries
© 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

woody inner fruit wall encloses seed

drupe - Familiar examples of drupes are found in Rosaceae subfamily Prunoideae (Amygdaloideae), such as cherries, peaches, and plums (all in the genus Prunus). Hawthorn (Rosaceae subfamily Maloideae) fruits are examples of polypyrenous drupes.


dry fruits indehiscent

winged (one or more)

samara - The fruits of ashes, elms, maples, and tree-of-heaven are familiar examples of samaras.



Quercus rubra - nuts, each enclosing only a single seed. © 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

  Samaras of Fraxinus (ash) and Ailanthus (tree-of heaven) and Fraxinus© 2004
Royal Ontario Museum

unwinged, from a compound ovary

nut -

unwinged, from a simple ovary

fruit wall joined to seed

grain - This is a family-specific term for the fruit of members of the Poaceae (grasses).

fruit wall free from seed

achene - sunflower "seeds" are good examples of achenes, as are virtually all the fruits produced by members of the family Asteraceae. Achenes are produced by many other families as well, such as the Cyperaceae (sedges) and Polygonaceae (buckwheat family).

dehiscent from a simple ovary

splitting open on one side

follicle - These are found in some Ranunculaceae and Rosaceae (subfamily "Spiraeoideae"), to name some additional examples.

splitting open on two sides

legume - Fabaceae

from a compound ovary

fruit segments separate from each other, each one retaining its seed

schizocarp - e.g. Apiaceae

fruit halves split away from persistent partition from which seeds are released

silique or silicle - Brassicaceae

fruit subunits split open to release seeds

capsule - These fruits are found in many families, and exhibit a vast range of variation.

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Follicles of Asclepias syriaca.
© 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

Legume of Lathyrus latifolius.
© 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

Schizocarps of Sium suave.
© 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

Siliques of Thlaspi arvense.
© 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

Capsules of Iris (left) and Oenothera (right).
© 2003 Royal Ontario Musem

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Now that you have some familiarity with the intricacies of fruit structure you can try to identify all the strange and wonderful fruits that perhaps you can find in your supermarket, but for sure can find in market areas near the university like Spadina or Kensington. IDENTIFRUIT is a DELTA database and website developed by a former Botany undergraduate as a tool for identifying exotic and not so exotic fruits. Try it out, or use the website to review fruit terminology. You can also use IDENTIFRUIT to give you lists of taxa that meet particular conditions, such as fruit type. However, please be advised that not all the information in the database is absolutely accurate. Durian fruits are capsules, not berries!


In the same way, seeds are matured ovules, in which the integuments are now the seed coat, and the nucellus has been replaced by an embryo (and endosperm, in many cases).

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Porter, C. L. (1967). Taxonomy of Flowering Plants. San Francisco, W. H. Freeman - pp. 120-122, key to fruit types.

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