Did you know that almost nothing we refer to as a “berry” is actually a berry in the botanical sense?
Botanically speaking, a berry is derived from a single ovary. That means that compound fruits like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, hackberries, dewberries, wineberries, or bayberries are not really berries, but an eggplant is real berry! Wrap your head around that one!
The berries we refer to that are berries (although in technical terms “false berries” because of their inferior ovaries) are mostly confined to the Ericaceous genus Vaccinium; you may be more familiar with the common names of blueberries, cranberries, and huckleberries.
In the Appalachian region of the northeastern United States, low bush and high bush blueberries are relatively common along ridgelines, where the soil is acidic. For example, I found a bunch on my hike the other day.
Low bush blueberries are smaller, but still well worth your while. The high bush blueberries are larger, but less common, and they ripen later in the summer.
The huckleberries are close relatives of blueberries. They are darker, with larger, crunchier seeds, and a slightly sweeter flavour. But what am I telling you this for?! Surely, you’ve enjoyed huckleberries before!
All of these species have an inferior ovary, which means that the flower is above where the fruit ends up being. So those little protruding “spikes” on the end of a blueberry are the remnants of the sepals of the flower.
So what’s a “true berry”? Well, aside from eggplant, you have tomatoes, grapes, avocados, and pumpkins, most of which you wouldn’t normally consider a “berry”. How berry confusing!
Botanical details aside, Vaccinium species are delicious and you should go and see if there are some ripe near you!