Fruit glossary

Information sheet

Find out the meaning of many horticultural terms relating to growing fruit.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): English

Fruit Families 

Fruit - in general terms refers to the usually fleshy sweet edible part of a plant that surrounds or supports the seeds of the plants. Typical fruit includes apples, pears and strawberries. These edible fruits have evolved to rely on animal or human consumption for their seed dispersal.

Botanically the term "fruit" refers to the structures that form from the flowering part of a plant and contain the seeds. This is a wider term that includes bean pods, corn kernels and nuts.

Tree - a large woody plant usually with one main stem (trunk) and a branching crown. 

Shrub or bush - a medium-sized, woody plant. Often with many stems rather than a single stem, and where all the branches grow from the base, not from a single trunk.

Perennial - a plant that grows year after year, dying down each winter, but re-growing in spring.

Fruit bush - medium sized woody plant, usually with branching stems, rather than a single stem.

Fruit cane - woody single stems of raspberries and blackberries.

Rootstock - fruit trees are mainly grown on a rootstock – this is a term used for the part of the tree that is mainly below ground and it is actually a separate type of fruit tree to the top fruiting part of the tree. The rootstock gives the overall tree a consistency in size and vigour and disease resistance. Some root stocks produce large fruit trees and others have a dwarfing effect, allowing fruit to be grown in smaller space.

Scion - this is the upper part of a fruit tree which has been grafted onto a rootstock and which bears the fruit. The scion provides the consistency in fruit.


The scion wood and root stock are united to form one plant through the process of grafting. In February – March time, a young pencil-thick piece of stem of scion fruiting wood is cut and joined onto the stem of the rootstock plant by laying the 2 cut surfaces together and binding them in place with grafting tape. The 2 plants function as one. For more information on this technique read the 'Grafting ornamental plants and fruit trees' advice page on the main RHS website.

Fleshy fruits

Berry - a fleshy fruit containing one or more seeds that do not have a stony inner coat around each seed, for example, a blackcurrant or blueberry.

Drupe - a fleshy fruit similar to a berry, but with the seed known as a kernel inside enclosed in a hard stony case or stone, like a cherry or plum stone, also known as a stone fruit due to the stone-like, hard coated seed inside.

Pome - the fleshy but firm fruit of an apple or pear. The outer fleshy part is formed from the swollen receptacle of the flower, surrounding the carpels; in each of these is one or more seeds or pips.

A simple fruit - is derived from a flower with a single ovary, for example a grape, tomato or peach.

An aggregate fruit - comes from a flower with several ovaries. It is a collection of small fruits borne on a single receptacle, for example a raspberry.

Accessory fruits - fruiting tissue that is formed from flower parts other than the ovary. For example, in an apple and pear, the fleshy part of the fruit is actually formed by the perianth tube that holds the petals and sepals. It swells around the ovary wall to form the edible part of the fruit.

Pseudocarp - in strawberries the receptacle that supports the flower parts swells to form the red flesh. The true fruits are the numerous, hard coated achenes, borne on top of the flesh. Sunflowers are another example of an achene

Hesperidium - a modified berry with a tough leathery rind. The flesh inside consists of separate sections each being a carpel containing juice and seeds. Oranges are an example.

Fruit Facts 

In botanical terms a fruit is the ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed bearing plant. The ovary is part of the flower. Fruits form following fertilisation. Pollen arrives on the flower stigma through the process of pollination. The pollen grain germinates and grows a tube down the style and inside the ovary where the ovule is fertilised. A fruit is formed from the ripened ovary.

Fruits can be divided into fleshy fruits, where the seeds are surrounded by usually edible flesh, and dried fruits, where the seeds are surrounded by a dry protective shell.

Dried fruits - A dry fruit that does not open is known as an indehiscent fruit. These include nuts, such as acorns, hazel and chestnuts.

Rose family (Rosaceae) - a family of plants that includes many of the fruit trees, bushes and plants of the fruit we like to eat. Rose plants have in common the fact that their flowers have 5 petals (compare an apple tree flower to a strawberry flower). They also have attractive colourful swollen fruits – mostly edible.

Orchard fruit or fruit trees or ‘top fruit’ family - trees that bear fruit, such as apples, pears, cherries. Most ‘top fruits’ are reasonably large, firm to touch, or with a seed in the centre of the fruit (exceptions are elderberry, fig). Most top fruit plants require a lot of space, take several years to fruit but continue to produce fruit over many years.

Soft fruit family - a term for several low growing shrubs and perennials that bear soft, juicy fruit; such as strawberries & currants. Soft fruit plants are quick to produce fruit, some in less than a year. Some will produce fruit over several years, but others, like strawberries, need replacing after 3 to 4 years. They take up less space than tree fruit and are suitable for smaller gardens and pots.

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