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Some Gardening Terms You May Have Seen (And Wondered What They Meant)

Over the years, you may have encountered gardening terms that were a little too scientific for the average person’s understanding. This article should help you get up-to-speed on some of the terms used for groupings of fruit and vegetable crops. Keep in mind that some terms are scientific or botanical terms, while others may be common vernacular we use. The mixing of the two can be confusing.

One reason these terms are important to understand is that certain pests (insects or diseases) tend to attack plants in certain plant groups.

Additionally, when I mention the term “fruit,” keep in mind that botanically the fruit is the ripened ovary that contains the seeds. It may be fleshy or dry, for example, a berry or a bean pod. In a practical sense, sometimes fruit includes additional tissues attached to the ovary(s), as we have with apples or strawberries.

Let’s start with fruits.

Pome fruits include apple, pear, and quince. A “pome” refers to what is the expanded tissue around the ovary. In common terms, we call the ovary the paper-like core of the apple or pear.

Stone fruits include any fruit with a pit. The pit is a “stony” endocarp. Stone fruits include peach, cherry, apricot, and plum.

Nuts are easy to understand. There are many types of nut trees, including hickory, pecan, walnut, butternut, chestnut, oak, and others. A nut is a dry fruit, usually (not always) with one seed and a hard pericarp (the ovary wall, or the outside of the fruit). Some nuts have husks containing the nut inside, like we have with hickory, pecan, walnut, and chestnut.

Small fruits are numerous and they include cranberry, grape, raspberry, and strawberry. Small fruit is a generalized term for fruits that grow on small perennial plants (not trees). We call many of these berries, but that is not a botanically accurate term for all small fruits.

Now, to vegetables.

Cole crops include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, and others. These plants are classified as brassicas and are also called cruciferous vegetables. “Crucifer” is a term for brassicas.

Legumes or pulse crops include peas and beans. After early growth stages, legumes are able to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen in nodules that form on the roots and supply nitrogen to the plant, eliminating the need to fertilize with nitrogen fertilizer.

Solanaceous crops include tomato, eggplant, and pepper.

Cucurbits or vine crops include cucumber, squash, melon, pumpkin, and gourd.

Greens or pot herbs include spinach and Swiss chard.

Salad crops include lettuce, celery, parsley, and endive.

Root crops include beet, carrot, radish, turnip, and sweet potato.

Tubers and rootstocks include potato, Jerusalem artichoke, and yam.

Bulb (and corm) crops include onion, garlic, and shallot.

Other miscellaneous crops include corn, asparagus, okra, and mushroom.

Finally, you may find that some vegetables fit into more than one category. For example, turnip is a root crop that is also a brassica. You may also find other classification terms, such as “leafy greens” or “microgreens”. Take some time to understand the types of plants in the termed category you are reading about.

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