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The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary. Grapes are an example. The berry is the most common type of fleshy fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible pericarp. They may have one or more carpels with a thin covering and fleshy interiors. The seeds are usually embedded in the flesh of the ovary (there are some non-fleshy exceptions, such as peppers). A plant that bears berries is said to be bacciferous or baccate (a fruit that resembles a berry, whether it actually is a berry or not, can also be called "baccate").
In everyday English, "berry" is a term for any small edible fruit. These "berries" are usually juicy, round or semi-oblong, brightly coloured, sweet or sour, and do not have a stone or pit, although many seeds may be present.
Many berries, such as the tomato, are edible, but others in the same family, such as the fruits of the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and the fruits of the potato (Solanum tuberosum) are poisonous to humans. Some berries, such as Capsicum, have space rather than pulp around their seeds.
Examples of botanical berries include:
Berries which develop from an inferior ovary are sometimes termed epigynous berries or false berries, as opposed to true berries which develop from a superior ovary. In epigynous berries, the berry includes tissue derived from parts of the flower besides the ovary. The floral tube, formed from the basal part of the sepals, petals and stamens can become fleshy at maturity and is united with the ovary to form the fruit. Common fruits that are sometimes classified as epigynous berries include bananas, coffee, members of the genus Vaccinium (e.g., cranberries and blueberries), and members of the family Cucurbitaceae (e.g., cucumbers, melons and squash).
Another specialized term is also used for Cucurbitaceae fruits, which are modified to have a hard outer rind, and are given the special name pepo. While pepos are most common in the Cucurbitaceae, the fruits of Passiflora and Carica are sometimes also considered pepos.
Many fruits commonly referred to as berries are not actual berries by the scientific definition, but fall into one of the following categories:
Other drupe-like fruits with a single seed, that lack the stony endocarp include Sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides, Elaeagnaceae), an achene surrounded by the swollen hypanthium, which provides the fleshy layer.
The pome fruits produced by plants in subtribe Pyrinae of family Rosaceae, such as apples and pears, have a structure (the core) that clearly separates the seeds from the ovary tissue. However, some of the smaller pomes are sometimes referred to as berries. Bright red haws from Crataegus are sometimes called hawberries. Amelanchier pomes become so soft at maturity that they resemble a blueberry and are known as Juneberries or Saskatoon berries.
Multiple fruits include the fruits of multiple flowers that are merged or packed closely together. The mulberry is a berry-like example of a multiple fruit; it develops from a cluster of tiny separate flowers that become compressed as they develop into fruit.
In accessory fruits, the edible part is not generated by the ovary. Berry-like examples include:
Berries are typically of a contrasting color to their background (often of green leaves), making them visible and attractive to frugivorous animals and birds. This assists the wide dispersal of the plants' seeds.
Berry colors are due to natural plant pigments, many of which are polyphenols, such as the flavonoids, anthocyanins, and tannins, localized mainly in berry skins and seeds. Berry pigments are usually antioxidants in vitro. However, there is no physiological evidence established to date that berry polyphenols have actual antioxidant value within the human body, and it is not permitted to claim that polyphenols have antioxidant health value on product labels in the United States and Europe.
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