P71026Certain fruits and vegetables were so much more palatable before studying botany. Knowing what they really are sort of puts a damper on things.

Real fruits, including those known as vegetables, are no problem. We all know what they are, and they have the seeds to prove it. Just like flowers reward pollinators with nectar, many plants use fruit to get animals and people to disperse their seeds. Therefore, the fruit is designed to be eaten.

The majority of vegetables are fine too. It seems natural to eat leaves, stems, roots and even flowers. Things get a bit weird with petioles of rhubarb, celery and cardoon, since the leaves are not eaten. Cinnamon bark and saffron stamens also seems a bit odd. What about maple syrup? Is it a vegetable too?

Then there are fruits and vegetables that are not what we think they are.

You will never look at a potato the same way knowing that it is a subterranean stem known as a stolon. If it is looking back at you, it is because it has eyes, which are actually modified axillary buds, which only stems are equipped with. It it were a modified tuber or or a tuberous root like most of us think it is, it would not have these eyes.

Pineapple might be watching too, with its many eyes. Each eye actually represents a flower. What we think of as a pineapple fruit is actually a densely crowded collection of distended and fused flowers. Does that mean it is a vegetable like broccoli or cauliflower?

Strawberry is sort of fruity; but only what we think of as strawberry ‘seeds’. They are actually single seeded fruits known as ‘achenes’. Really, those little black things are outfitted with everything that they need to be classified as fruit. The red part of the strawberry is only a ‘receptacle’ for the achenes.

Everyone knows that fig trees do not bloom. So, how do they make fruit? Well, they technically don’t make any visible fruit; but they do bloom. What we think of as a fig fruit is actually a weird inside out inflorescence, with minute flowers on the inside. Each species of fig is pollinated by a particular species of minute wasp that enters the inflorescence through a very small hole at the end. Minute achenes about the size of strawberry achenes are the crunchy bits in ripe figs. To make figs even more unappealing, some wild figs contain the eggs and larvae of the wasps that went inside to deposit their eggs before dying there. Yum. Most garden varieties attract the wasps, but lack the necessary floral parts for the wasp to want to leave their eggs there. They therefore do the job of pollinating without dying inside.


8 thoughts on “Anatomically Correct Horticulture

  1. ha! I love figs and they are part of the wild flora at the place we used to live in. So end of summer / beginning of fall I would just pick the ‘fruit’ off the tree and eat it. My kids don’t like figs, so it was just me. I guess I got some protein with my fruit. But then again that’s the danger of picking anything in the wild.
    Also I’ll never look at potatoes in the same way again. That’s kind of creepy…

    Liked by 1 person

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