Botanically, a berry is “a fleshy fruit that develops from a single ovary within a single flower, lacking a central stone”.
Technically, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and bananas are berries — but raspberries & strawberries are not because they did not develop from single ovaries. (Of course, only a botanist would know that!)
For the rest of us, a berry is a small, usually juicy, sometimes tasty, fruit. Not all berries are edible, of course. Some are poisonous, such as holly berries, pokeweed berries and juniper berries. But, there are many kinds of berries that are edible and delicious, some of which we can grow in the home landscape.
Here is a brief sampler
Blackberry, raspberry, loganberry and boysenberry
The various blackberry species and cultivars are collectively bramble fruits.
They (usually) grow thorny vines that produce their fruits on the second season’s canes.
Raspberries (including red raspberry, Rubrus idaeus, and black raspberry, R. occidentalis) differ from blackberries (several other species of Rubus) in that the fruit separates readily from the receptacle, leaving a fruit with a hollow core, whereas the fruit of a blackberry remains on the receptacle which is eatable. Loganberries are hybrids between blackberries and red raspberries; their fruits look like red blackberries. The boysenberry (Rubus ursinus × R. idaeus) a complex hybrid created by crossing several blackberry and raspberry species, look a lot like blackberries and raspberries but larger. It is almost impossible to find fresh boysenberries at market, although they are grown commercially for processing into jams, pies, juices and syrups. Many of the Rubus species are of easy cultivation, and there are varieties adapted to every climate in North America.
Also called wolfberry, goji berry is a name given to the fruit of Chinese box thorn (Lycium barbarum), a rampant, thorny deciduous shrub from China.
The elliptical berry is orange-red and about a half inch long. Considered a “super fruit” in the popular media, there is little scientific evidence to support the notion that goji berries are particularly healthful. They are, however, an ingredient in various dishes in China. Chinese box thorn grows best where the summers are hot and the winters are cold, as in USDA zones 7 and 8 in the southwestern US.
There are around a dozen species of mulberries, all of which are deciduous trees native to the Americas, Africa and Asia. White mulberry (Morus alba), red mulberry (M. rubra) and black mulberry (M. nigra) are grown for their sweet and juicy blackberry-like fruits. Cultivars of black mulberry tend to have the best tasting fruit; they are large and juicy, and both sweet and tart. Some cultivars of the North American native red mulberry produce fruits that are almost as tasty as those of black mulberry. White mulberry fruits are very sweet but insipid.
Açai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berries come from the South American Açai palm (Euterpe oleracea).
The berry (botanically a drupe – not a berry) is purplish black and about an inch in diameter. Açai fruits are an important food for poor people in the Amazon region.
High in fatty acids, proteins and antioxidants, Açai berries have numerous health benefits, although no scientific studies provde evidence for such claims. Açai palms are best in USDA zones 10 and 11.
Blueberry, bilberry, cranberry and deerberry:
These are all berries in the Vaccinium class.
Deerberries grow wild in Ontario in well-drained soils under arid oaks and pines. Cultivated blueberries have been derived from several native species of North American shrubs — notably rabbit-eye blueberry & highbush blueberry. Many of the wild blueberries are smaller but just as tasty;
Mayberry (V. myrsinites)
Shiny blueberry (V. myrsinites)
Velvet-leaf blueberry (V. myrtilloides)
Black highbush blueberry (V. fuscatum)
Deerberry (V. stamineum)
The Deerberry is in habitats where their proximity to large bodies of water affects the climate. Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is native to northern Europe and Asia and is similar to the North American blueberry, but smaller and less productive. Bilberries are usually picked from wild plants and rarely cultivated.
Cranberry (V. macrocarpon) is a blueberry that grows in acidic bogs and swamps in Canada and the northern United States.
Cranberries have a distinctive, tart flavor. Cultivation of cranberries is a very intensive form of agriculture, requiring dedicated beds, periodic flooding and draining, and specialized harvesting equipment.
Huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.) are similar to blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and often confused with them. Adding to the confusion is that some species of Vaccinium in western North America have “huckleberry” in their common names.
Whereas blueberries have many tiny seeds; huckleberries have exactly ten larger, pebbly seeds.
Huckleberry plants are generally short, woodland shrubs with yellow resinous glands on the underside of their leaves. Blueberry leaves lack the glands. Huckleberries have a spicy flavor that is delicious fresh, in jams and in pies. Unfortunately (or fortunately) you usually have to pick your own huckleberries as they are rarely cultivated.
Buffalo berry (Shepherdia argentea) is a thorny shrub that grows in the northern Great Plains, all the way up to USDA zone 2. The fruit is a red berry-like drupe that is ovoid and about a half inch long.
Buffalo berries are sour and acrid, leaving a parched feeling in the mouth.
Nevertheless, they are in jellies, jams, pies and similar to cranberry sauce.
There are about a dozen species of wild strawberries occurring in northern Europe, Asia and North America and in Chile. The cultivated strawberry (Fragaria X ananassa) is a hybrid developed by crossing several species.
The “berry” is technically a receptacle with many dry, achenes (fruits) on its surface.
Strawberries are available commercially throughout the world and are an easy annual in the home garden.
Hence, no matter your taste preference, there’s a berry for you. Delicious, potentially good for you, and, at times fun to cultivate and eat, berries are truly a super, awesome fruit!