Food Garden · Fruit · Herb · Vegetable

Edibles: Food Plant Families & Botanical Definitions

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.

Botanical fruit and culinary vegetables
Botanical fruit and culinary vegetables, I have and account Happy now, Wikipedia

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
Bromeliaceae Bromeliad family Pineapple
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
Lythraceae Loosestrife family Pomegranate,
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)
Vitaceae Grape family Grapevine
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.

Botanical Definitions


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
Lettuce & Spinach Botanical Print Kurt Stuber Online Library
Lettuce & Spinach Botanical Print Kurt Stuber Online Library


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.

Spearmint, Mentha spicata
Thyme, Thymus vulgaris (left) and Spearmint, Mentha spicata (right)


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

Simple Compound
Dry Fleshy Multiple Aggregate
Dehiscent – pea Drupes – plum Accessory – strawberry Syconium – fig
Indehiscent – wall nut Berry – redcurrant Balausta – pomegranate Sorosis – mulberry
Pome – apple

Simple fruits

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
Tomatoes,Lycopersicon esculentum, Golden Nugget variety
Tomatoes, Lycopersicon esculentum, Golden Nugget variety

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

the seven characters observed by Mendel peas genetics
Pea Genetics

Compound Fruits

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

Fig Ficus carica fruit anatomy
Fig, Ficus carica, fruit anatomy

This is a simple guide; as many fruits fall into multiple categories and some are further differentiated in the main categories. Check out 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

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