Here is a very comprehensive list of plant families to which our crops, spices, fruits, herbs and vegetables belong. Also supplied are the botanical definitions for some of the fruits, vegetables and herbs we use daily.
Food Plant Families
|Family (Scientific classification)||Represents||Members|
|Actinidiaceae||Chinese gooseberry family||Kiwifruit|
|Amaryllidaceae||Amaryllis or Onion family||Garlic, leek, onion, shallot, chives|
|Anacardiaceae||Cashew or Sumac family||Cashew, pistacia, mango, marula|
|Annonaceae||Custard apple family||Anona, pawpaw (papaya), ylang-ylang|
|Apiaceae||Carrot or Parsley family||Cumin, anise, caraway, carrot, fennel , chervil, cicely, coriander, cilantro, dill, wormwood a, lovage, parsley, parsnip|
|Asteraceae or Compositae||Aster, Daisy or Sunflower family||Salsify, scorzonera, lettuce, endive, chicory, celery b, angelica b, florence fennel, chamomile, tansy, tarragon|
|Boraginaceae||Borage or Forget-me-not family||Borage, comfrey, oyster plant, bugloss|
|Brassicaceae||Cabbage or Crucifer family||Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, rapeseed, radish, horseradish, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, daikon, kale, kohl rabi, mustard, swede, watercress, savoys, rocket, land cress|
|Chenopodiaceae*||Goosefoot or beet family||Beetroot, chard, spinach, silverbeet, quinoa, goosefoot, good king henry, fat hen|
|Convolvulaceae||Blindweed or Morning Glory family||Sweet potato, water spinach|
|Cucurbitaceae||Squash and pumpkin family||Squash, gourd, pumpkin, zucchini, marrow, melons, cucumber, luffa, watermelon, gherkin|
|Ebenaceae||Persimmon and ebony family||Persimmon|
|Ericaceae||Heath or Heather family||Cranberry, blueberry, huckleberry, bilberry, loganberry|
|Fabaceae or Leguminosae||Legume, pea or bean family||Pea, beans, soybean, chickpea, alfalfa, peanut, carob, liquorice, vetch, lupin, lentil|
|Grossulariaceae||Currant and gooseberry family||Gooseberry, currant|
|Lamiaceae||Mint family||Basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, thyme, lavender|
|Lauraceae||Laurel family||Bay laurel, avocado, cinnamon|
|Malvaceae||Mallow or Hibiscus family||Okra, rosella, cocoa, mallow|
|Moraceae||Mulberry and fig family||Fig, mulberry|
|Musaceae||Banana family||Banana, plantain|
|Myrthaceae||Myrtle family||Myrtle, clove, guava, feijoa, allspice, eucalyptus, brush cherry|
|Oleaceae||Olive family||Olive, ashes, lilac, jasmine|
|Passifloraceae||Passion flower family||Granadilla (passion fruit),|
|Poaceae||True grass family||Maize (corn), wheat, millet, rye, oat, ryegrass, sorghum, rice, barley, lemongrass|
|Polygonaceae||Buckwheat family||Buckwheat, sorrel, rhubarb|
|Rosaceae||Rose family||Plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, almonds, apples, pears, quiches, raspberries, strawberries, blackberry, cotoneaster, hawthorn, medlars, loquats, damson, gage, loganberry, boysenberry, cloudberry, dewberry, wineberry|
|Rutaceae||Citrus or Rue family||Orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime, kumquat, curry tree, mandarin, calamansi, common rue, clementine|
|Sapindaceae||Soapberry family||Litchi (lychee), maple, horse chestnut|
|Solanaceae||Nightshade or Potato family||Potato, tomato, eggplant, peppers (capsicum), tomatillo, cape gooseberry|
|Verbenaceae||Verbena/Vervain family||Verbenas (lemon)|
|Zingiberaceae||Ginger family||Ginger, turmeric, cardamom|
* As of 2003 the Chenopodiaceae family has been combined with the Amaranthaceae family. The Amatanthaceae family has been divided into Amaranthoideae subfamily, for amaranths, and Chenopodiodeae subfamily, for the chenopods.
aWormwood family discrepancies, may belong to Asteraceae.
bCelery/Angelica family discrepancies, may belong to Apiaceae.
This is any edible part of a plant, and in my opinion excludes the fruiting part (the seed containing structures). Vegetables therefore are stems, leaves, flowers, roots, bulbs and tubers.
- Stem vegetables include: Celery, kohl rabi, asparagus
- Leaves: Lettuce, cabbage, spinach
- Flowers: Broccoli, cauliflower
- Roots: Beet, carrots, parsnip, radish, turnip, swede, salsify
- Tubers: Potato, yam, sweet potato, yaro
- Bulbs: Onions, garlic
Herbs are soft plants that do not form permanent woody tissue and may be annual, biennial or perennial. Some herbs are trees, however most are shrubby plants. The term ‘herb’ applies mostly to plants with some medicinal or culinary property.
The botanical definition of a fruit is the mature ovary of a flower that contains seeds. The fleshy part of the fruit may be soft or dry. Therefore, fruits can be apples, pears or mangoes with which we are all familiar, but fruits also include tomatoes, cucumber, beans, squash and eggplant.
As with everything in life fruits can be differentiated into various fruit types, based upon the number of ovaries and overall fruit structure:
A quick look at fruits
|Dehiscent – pea||Drupes – plum||Accessory – strawberry||Syconium – fig|
|Indehiscent – wall nut||Berry – redcurrant||Balausta – pomegranate||Sorosis – mulberry|
|Pome – apple|
Fruit develops from a single/compound ovary of a single flower often with a single seed. These include dry and fleshy fruits. Dry fruits are further classified into dehiscent (split upon ripening) and indehiscent (do not split upon ripening).
Fleshy simple fruit include; drupes, berries (hesperidium, pepo) and pomes.
- Drupes: ‘Stone fruit’, contains hard inedible pips – plum, cherry, peach, apricot, olive
- Berries: ‘Soft fruit’ containing many seeds in one fruit – redcurrant, gooseberry, tomato, cranberry, pepper, eggplant
~ Hesperidium: Berry with a leathery rind and segmented fruit pulp, i.e., all citrus
~ Pepo: Berry with watery flesh and flat seeds – Cucurbit/gourd family (squash, cucumber, melon, pumpkin, watermelon)
- Pomes: The fruits from the Rosaceae family that develop from a half-inferior ovary – apples, pears, rosehips, saskatoon berry
Dry simple fruits include; dehiscent (follicle, legume, silique, capsule) and indehiscent (samara, achene, caryopsis, nut).
- Dehiscent: Ovary splits upon maturing
~ Follicle: Pod formed from a single carpel and splits on one side – milkweed, peony, magnolia
~ Legume: Pod from a leguminous plant (fixes own nitrogen for growth) – pea, bean, soya, peanut
~ Silique: Long pods from the mustard family and splits from both sides – fruits/seeds of the cabbage family (not the cabbage/leafy part we eat!)
~ Capsule: Pod formed from two carpels – brazil nut, horse chestnut, poppy
- Indehiscent: Ovary does not split upon maturing
~ Samara: Single seeded fruit with a flat and fibrous winged structure has formed over the ovary, to be carried by the wind – sycamore, elm seeds
~ Achene: Single seeded fruit – buckwheat, buttercup
~ Caryopsis: Single seeded fruit where the pericarp is fused to the seed – cereals, grass seeds
~ Nut: Hard fruit or shell encasing the seed – acorn, hazelnut, wall nut
Fruit develops from multiple ovaries. Two categories of compound fruit exist – aggregate and multiple fruits
- Multiple: Coalesced ovaries of an entire interflorescence (the flowering structure)
~ Accessory: Fruit not formed from the ovary, but from an exterior nonovarian tissue, such as the receptacle, which forms the base of the flower stem – strawberry
~ Balausta: Old term for the fruits of the pomegranate – it is now known as a ‘Hyp’, a multiple of drupes
- Aggregate: Many ovaries attached to a single receptacle forming fruitlets
~ Syconium: ‘Receptacle fruit’, flowers/fruit and seeds form within the stem/receptacle. Each fig has its own specialist fig wasp for pollination, fig and wasp are dependent on each other and co-evolve together – Ficus family, figs
~ Sorosis: The fruit is formed by the consolidation of many ovaries – mulberry
This is a simple guide; as many fruits fall into multiple categories and some are further differentiated in the main categories. Check out http://www.northernontarioflora.ca/fruits_term_types.cfm for a complete list – but make sure you know the botany terms for flower and fruit structures first or refer to this amazing book form Oxford University Press – The New Oxford Book of Food Plants.
How to Grow Profiles on several of the Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs are soon to Follow!
21 thoughts on “Edibles: Food Plant Families & Botanical Definitions”
This was very helpful, thank you!