Oh Siliques, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways…
We could write a whole Shakespearean soliloquy about our love of siliques – but we’ll stick to a pithy little blog entry, instead. It’s the 21st Century, after all!
Like the schizocarps and caryopses that came before them, siliques are a specific design of plant seed, allowing some of our favorite fruits, vegetables and flowers to blossom in their very own beautiful – and, usually, delicious – way.
But understanding the process can be a little tricky, so before we delve into the details, we’ll break down a few of the bigger concepts (and vocabulary words!) involved.
A silique is technically a type of simple, dried fruit with a fused dual carpel that expresses a dehiscent characteristic when ripe. Whew!
So what, exactly, does that mean?
“Simple, dried fruit” comes from a scientific designation that categorizes fruits based on how they develop in the womb, so to speak.
“Simple” fruits are the types of plants that develop from a single ovary. And this category is than further broken down between “fleshy” (read: berries and drupes) or “dried” (read: pretty much everything else) types of fruits.
Now, for all that science-sounding stuff:
In order to understand what a fused dual carpel is, we’ll start with the carpel. This is a packet found within a plant that includes all the female reproductive functions a plant will need to grow. (In the case of simple fruits, that includes their signature “single ovary.”) But on top of ovaries, carpels also contain a few other plant parts that make the magic work, including stigmas and usually styles.
A dual carpel means a plant seed will have two of these seed packets that are fused together – at first. But once the plant ripens, in the case of a silique, that’s when its dehiscent nature steps in.
In fancy science talk, dehiscent describes the process by which a plant’s seed-holding pods will split open when the plant is fully mature. It’s one of the many ways Mother Nature has found to spread her seeds throughout the world. (If you really want to impress your friends, you can mention how this split usually occurs down a seam called a replum.)
But, if you can believe it, there’s even more that gets involved when it comes to defining these very special kinds of seeds.
We’ll admit it, we here at the FruitStand blog are more wordsmiths than math whizzes, but a bit of number crunching does go into the technical definition of a silique.
In fact, these carpels have to be at least three times as long as they are wide in order to qualify. (Otherwise, the fruits are known as silicles. Don’t ask us why – it’s just science!)
However, you may know these specifically-ratioed seed-holding specimen better by their street name: pods. As in, the things those two peas snuggle up so nicely in.
Most siliques will separate into segments of two or four seeds, which can be found inside their (mathematically-approved) elongated capsules.
And indeed, many types of siliques are best recognized as pod-wielding plants we know and love (to eat!).
We know, that’s a lot of science to digest. But at least it’s a tasty lesson in the real world!
The mustard family (scientific name: Brassicaceae) is perhaps the most famous purveyor of siliques in the plant kingdom.
That means all this fancy science may be most recognizable, to the non-professionals among us, as broccoli, cauliflower, all types of radishes (including the root horseradish), and mustard plants (and, more importantly, seeds) themselves.
But those aren’t the only members of the silique family tree.
Many legumes – AKA beans – also get their start from silique seeds. Perhaps most recognizable (and easy to visualize the entire concept) is the delicious edamame, or soy bean.
So next time you get the delicious appetizer at an Asian restaurant (or enjoy any of the stir-fried broccoli or cauliflower, or the pickled radish garnish, or the mustard-based dipping sauces…), take a moment to thank the silique – and all the delicious science behind it!