Some fruits are fun to say. Some fruits are fun to eat. Schizocarps have the rare designation of being both.
But there’s far more than a good time behind these tricky and tasty plants. In fact, there’s quite a lot of strange science that dictates what exactly makes a schizocarp.
To explain, we’re gonna have to get pretty technical – but let’s start with the easy (er, easier) stuff.
Our first hint to what a schizocarp is lies in the type of plant’s name itself: The prefix schizo is actually derived from the Greek “skhizo,” which means to split, cleave or separate. (Think the divide of a schism or the split personalities of a schizophrenic.)
In the case of the fruit, these splits have to do with the plants’ seeds and growth patterns.
Schizocarp fruits start out as dried fruit, that then split into single-seeded parts, which are called mericarps. (This split is an indication that the fruit is ripe.)
To drill even deeper into the subject, this is where we can examine the other half of the word: “carpic,” which, in both schizocarp and mericarp, refers to a carpel.
Carpels are actually the female reproductive parts of a flower. They include the full suite of reproductive faculties, including an ovary, stigma and usually a style. All these parts work together to help produce the next generation.
So, a schizocarp fruit is a plant that splits into individual carpel units, called mericarps. Whew!
Still, not all schizocarps are created equal.
While that patented split happens in every type of schizocarp, the plants all deal with it differently.
Some types of schizocarps are dehiscent, meaning the divisions split open, in order to release their seeds. These fruits and flowers are beautiful to behold, as they unfurl to reveal the rarely-seen inner workings of some of Mother Nature’s best designs.
The other family of schizocarp fruits and flowers are called indehiscent. These plants keep their mericarps closed after their initial split, and rely on other ways to spread their seed.
So what does all that science end up looking – and tasting – like in real life?
There are a number of schizocarp fruits and plants out there. You may have even been enjoying them for years without ever even knowing it!
Some of the most famous faces of the dehiscent type of fruit include members of the geranium family, including the beautiful namesake flowers and their close cousins, cranesbill, horns’ bill and filaree plants.
You’re more likely familiar with the indehiscent form of schizocarp plants, however. These include members of the apiaceae family of fruits, which count a number of well-known natural treats among their ranks, including:
Some of these may seem strange to envision—but it helps to think of the leaves.
The familiar orange stalk of a carrot, for example, isn’t exactly the traditional schizocarp design (and certainly doesn’t bring to mind any idea of divisions) – but the vegetable’s leaves split off in those distinctive schizocarp patterns. The same can be said for the leaves of many of these plants.
So, if you have any sort of healthy spice cabinet, you’re likely well-acquainted with the indehiscent schizocarp. Thanks, science!