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Name: Tom R.
Status: other
Age: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999-2001 


Question:
I would like to know the definition (botanically) of what makes a Fruit versus a vegetable versus a herb or a nut. I know the tomato can sometimes be considered a bit of both fruit and vegetable and I have also read somewhere that the banana is not a fruit but a herb. Is there a clear cut definition etc for clarification?


Replies:
Tom,

This is a tough one. Technically, a tomato is a berry. Just for further enjoyment, an apple is a fluid-filled hypanthium. :)

The particular item you are discussing will determine the specific best term to describe it.

Generally you can safely call the product of a fertilization a "fruit". (We routinely, in the supermarket, call the structure bearing fruits "fruit"). Generally fruits will germinate into plants which will again flower, offering another opportunity for fertilization. (Note that bananas we find in the store bear tiny almost-remnants of seeds which will not germinate...in the wild, banana "fruits" have seeds (fruits, being the products of fertilization) which are much larger which will germinate). If one discusses a part of a plant which is not the direct product of a fertilization nor the structure bearing it, then one could safely call the item an herb. For example, basil leaves are vegetative structures not specifically the result of a fertilization and are most easily described as herbs.

I do not have an adequate definition for 'vegetable', but my feeling for its routine meaning is any part of a plant consumed whether a stem (celery), a leaf (lettuce), a root or tuber (radish, or potato, respectively), and in some cases the fruit of fertilization or structures bearing them (cucumbers, yes-tomatoes). Add to this such items as mushrooms (basidiocarps of fungi) and you get the idea....the term vegetable has come to mean most anything which is not animal or mineral which we find in the 'produce' section of the supermarket. Thus, the term vegetable has somewhat lost a botanical usefulness in that there are more specific terms to use depending on the particular structure being discussed.

Note that there are specific botanical definitions for berries which can be found in any good plant classification text; you can see this is essential, for example, in distinguishing between raspberries, blueberries, and tomatoes (also berries).

I hope this shed some light on the challenge of plant classification and gave some insight as to why scientific names were established to pin down a particular organism to prevent confusion with many common names or possibly similar terms for different organisms.

Thanks for using NEWTON!

Ric Rupnik


Botanically speaking, anything that bears or is a seed is considered a fruit. There are different kinds of fruit, ie nuts are a kind of fruit. Vegetables are any part of the plant that doesn't have to do with making new plants. Lettuce is a leaf, carrot is a root, celery is a stem. I think I heard a story of how the legal definition of a fruit vs. veggie was established as a way of avoiding taxes or tarifs or something.

Van Hoeck



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