Fruit Structure and Diversity


Fruits are produced by flowers after pollination and fertilisation and derive mainly from the pistil of the flower. Fruits have a major economical importance, constituting the most valuable part of the crop production of the world. Fruits provide seeds with protection and mechanisms for dispersal and, thus, represent a key evolutionary innovation of the Angiosperms, enabling the offspring to travel and colonise new areas. Fruits may be dry or fleshy, dehiscent or indehiscent, and are adapted in a great variety of ways for the dispersal of seeds. Our knowledge on the genetics of fruit development has improved substantially in the past few years, mainly through studies of the dehiscence process in Arabidopsis thaliana and of the ripening process in tomato.

Key Concepts:

  • Fruits serve two main purposes: protect the developing seeds and ensure seed dispersal.

  • Fruits represent a major evolutionary innovation, key for Angiosperm success.

  • Fruit morphological and functional diversity reflect adaptations to different agents that are used for dispersal.

Keywords: fruit; reproduction; angiosperms; seeds; dispersal; dehiscence; ripening

Figure 1.

Pistil and fruit anatomy. Left: Cartoon of an Angiosperm typical flower. The pistil is formed by the stigma, which receives and germinates the pollen; the style, which transmits the pollen tube to the ovary; and the ovary, a chamber containing and protecting the ovule. Right: Cartoon of a mature fruit. The three layers of the pericarp surrounding the seed are indicated.

Figure 2.

Types of fruits according to the dispersal unit. Different examples are given for each type. Follicle: Brachychiton. Legume: Acacia. Capsules: (left) Poliothyrsis sinensis, septicidal dehiscence; (right) Papaver somniferum or poppy, loculicidal dehiscence. Achene: Helianthus or sunflower. Caryopsis: Zea mays or maize. Nut: Corylus avellana or hazelnut. Cypsela: Cardoncellus diaunus. Compound fruit: Liquidambar. Squizocarp: Styphnolobium japonicum. Multiple false fruit: Maclura pomifera or osage‐orange. Berry: (top) Callicarpa dichotoma or beautyberry; (below) Vitis vinifera or grape. Pome: Malus domestica or apple. Hesperidium: Citrus limoniun or lemon. Drupe: Prunus persica or peach.

Figure 3.

Seed dispersal mechanisms. Different examples are given for each type according to the dispersal agent. Hydrochory: (left) Heritiera littoralis, (right) Nelumbo or lotus. Anemochory: feathers in (left) Senecio and (centre) Clematis, wings in (right) Acer. Autochory: (left) Ecballium, (right) Impatiens. Zoochory: Endozoochory, (top left) bird carrying a fruit in the beak; (top right) Arbutus unedo; (below) Bright red seeds in Euonymous dehiscent fruit. Epizoochory: Medicago truncatula.

Figure 4.

Dehiscence in Arabidopsis thaliana. (a) Fully grown silique of Arabidopsis before (left) and after (right) drying and dehiscing. (b) Transversal section of a mature Arabidopsis silique. A hystological stain has been used to reveal lignified cells (pink colour). (c) Genetic model for the development of the dehiscence zone in Arabidopsis. The cartoon represents an equivalent section to that shown in (b), where valves have been coloured in green, dehiscence zones in pink and the replum in blue. The genes actinig in these regions have been colour‐coded accordingly.

Figure 5.

Genetic regulation of ripening in tomato. Top: Mature fruits of wildtype and different mutants of tomato that show altered patterns of ripening. Below: Genetic model for the control of ethylene‐dependent and nondependent ripening pathways.



Cong B, Barrero LS and Tanksley SD (2008) Regulatory change in YABBY‐like transcription factor led to evolution of extreme fruit size during tomato domestication. Nature Genetics 40: 800–804.

Ferrándiz C, Liljegren S and Yanofsky M (2000) FRUITFULL negatively regulates the SHATTERPROOF genes during Arabidopsis fruit development. Science 289: 436–438.

Frary A, Nesbitt TC, Frary A et al. (2000) fw2.2: a quantitative trait locus key to the evolution of tomato fruit size. Science 289: 85–88.

Giovannoni JJ (2007) Fruit ripening mutants yield insights into ripening control. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 10: 283–289.

Liljegren S, Ditta G, Eshed Y et al. (2000) SHATTERPROOF MADS‐box genes control seed dispersal in Arabidopsis. Nature 404: 766–769.

Liljegren SJ, Roeder AH, Kempin SA et al. (2004) Control of fruit patterning in Arabidopsis by INDEHISCENT. Cell 116: 843–853.

Manning K, Tor M, Poole M et al. (2006) A naturally occurring epigenetic mutation in a gene encoding an SBP‐box transcription factor inhibits tomato fruit ripening. Nature Genetics 38: 948–952.

Moore S, Vrebalov J, Payton P and Giovannoni J (2002) Use of genomics tools to isolate key ripening genes and analyse fruit maturation in tomato. Journal of Experimental Botany 53: 2023–2030.

Rajani S and Sundaresan V (2001) The Arabidopsis myc/bHLH gene ALCATRAZ enables cell separation in fruit dehiscence. Current Biology 11: 1914–1922.

Roeder AH, Ferrandiz C and Yanofsky MF (2003) The role of the REPLUMLESS homeodomain protein in patterning the Arabidopsis fruit. Current Biology 13: 1630–1635.

Seymour GB, Manning K, Eriksson EM, Popovich AH and King GJ (2002) Genetic identification and genomic organization of factors affecting fruit texture. Journal of Experimental Botany 53: 2065–2071.

Sundberg E and Ferrandiz C (2009) Gynoecium patterning in Arabidopsis: a basic plan behind a complex structure. In: Ostergaard L (ed.) Annual Plant Reviews, Volume 38. Fruit Development and Seed Dispersal, pp. 35–69. UK: Wiley‐Blackwell.

Yanofsky MF, Ma H, Bowman JL et al. (1990) The protein encoded by the Arabidopsis homeotic gene agamous resembles transcription factors. Nature 346: 35–39.

Further Reading

Bell AD (2008) Plant Form. An Illustrated Guide to Flowering Plant Morphology, New edition. London: Timber Press.

Friis EM, Chaloner WG and Crane PR (eds) (1989) The Origins of Angiosperms and Their Biological Consequences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gollner AL (2008) The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce, and Obsession. New York: Scribner.

Heywood VH, Brummitt RK, Culham A and Seberg O (2007) Flowering Plants Families of the World. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books.

Judd WS, Campbell CS, Kellog EA, Stevens PF and Donoghue MJ (2007) Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach, 3rd edn. Sinauer Associates, Inc.

Stebbins GL (1974) Flowering Plants. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Stuppy W and Kesseler R (2008) Fruit. Edible, Inedible, Incredible. Ontario, Canada: Firefly books.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Ferrandiz, Cristina(Jan 2011) Fruit Structure and Diversity. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002044.pub2]