Despite a popular misconception, the strawberry is not actually a berry. Part of the rose family, the strawberry is an accessory aggregate fruit, meaning one that forms from multiple ovaries within the same flower. Accessory fruits contain additional floral parts that grow into achenes, or seeds, on the strawberry flower's surface, according to Professor of Biological Science Bruce D. Westling.
Biology of Fruit
Fruit is a survival mechanism of certain plants that allows seeds to disperse and stay protected. Fleshy or hard fruit forms a barrier to shield the embryo inside from the potential damage of harsh environmental conditions, according to Raymond Milewski, associate professor of biological sciences at East Stroudsburg University. When a plant's ovary matures and forms seeds, it makes fruit. Fruits are classified by composition, origin and texture. True fruit is one that forms from ovary tissue only, rather than accessory fruit, like the strawberry, which grows from multiple parts of the flower.
Strawberries develop from a white flower to a flavorful, fleshy receptacle. The receptacle stores achenes, which appear to be seeds but are really small fruits that never develop. Achenes are the true fruits of the strawberry, whereas what is considered the "fruit" is an enlarged flower stem holding these tiny fruits. Therefore, strawberries are considered an accessory, or false fruit. They are also aggregate fruits, forming from more parts than simply the ovary tissue.
Berries versus Strawberries
As an accessory aggregate fruit, the strawberry is not a berry by definition. In botany, berries are a fleshy fruit formed from a single ovary in which entire ovary wall becomes fleshy and edible, according to Greg Church, horticulturist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Berries are a classified as a true fruit by composition and a simple fruit by origin, as they grow from a single ovary. Grapes, tomatoes, kiwis, avocados, eggplants and persimmons are each examples of botanical berries. Strawberries are made of several fleshy fruit-producing ovaries; therefore, they are not classified as true berries.
Common Berry Confusion
Strawberries are not alone in having a misleading common name. Several of the most popular edible fruits referred to as berries are not berries, either. For example, raspberries and blackberries are aggregate drupes, with each drupe, or seed, containing one pit. If a fruit contains achenes or drupes, it does not classify as a berry in botany, though we can continue to call them berries freely in food preparation.
- John Burroughs School: Reproduction of Flowering Plants
- East Stroudsburg University: Seed and Fruits
- Texas AgriLife Extension Service: Fruits, Nuts, and Berries
- Encyclopedia of Life: Facts About Garden Strawberry (Fragraria ananassa)
- Journal of Zhejiang University Science B: Survey of Antioxidant Capacity and Phenolic Composition of Blueberry, Blackberry, and Strawberry in Nanjing
- Handbook of Fruit and Fruit Processing; Nirmal Sinha et al.
Claire Watson began web writing in spring 2012, and has since contributed to various health and insurance sites. Watson also has experience in interior design, DIY projects and holds a degree in Illustration. Residing in art- and health-centered Asheville, N.C., Watson furthers her appreciation and advocacy for organics, natural living and balance.