Drawings of fruits that grow on trees
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Drawings of fruits that grow on trees are a common sight in Europe. In many ways, the world’s best known fruit trees resemble human bodies. Most have four major branches, with male (stamens) and female (pistils) organs in flower-like structures on the ends.
There is a clear association between tree organs, their function, and how they are grouped on the tree. Leaves, stems, and roots form the trunk, branches, and roots, respectively. Flowers have similarities with the other organ groups. For example, in apples, most of the stamens are clustered near the flowers, and in other fruits, the pistils are generally more closely associated with the fruit than the stamens.
Tree-Based Studies Reveal Interrelationships Among Organ Groups
To find out how fruit tree organs are related, researchers have made measurements of the fruit in different parts of trees. Some, for example, have shown that on modern varieties of apples, individual flowers form right next to individual fruits on the branches.
Most fruit tree researchers also measure how long branches grow from the trunk and the specific angles that they form. As the tree ages, the angle of branches from the trunk changes—for example, narrower.
The four major groups of fruit tree organs also appear to be related to one another. This is often clear in the seed case. The tiny, often hidden seeds that we find on peaches, apricots, plums, and pears fall from the plant in groups. These groups always appear together—“grafted”—on each tree.
More recent research has confirmed how very small seeds, found on grapevines and other fruit trees, are related to one another. To gather data on this subject, scientists measured how long the branches were from the trunk, and then how the angle of those branches changed as the tree aged.
Researchers found that the angle between a grapevine’s trunk and its branches—the trunk-to-branch angle—maintained a relatively constant length. However, the angle between the trunk and a grapevine’s lowest and second lowest branches also maintained a constant length. And that angle between the trunk and the lowest and second lowest branches formed a constant angle.
Furthermore, this pattern also related to seed numbers. There was a linear correlation between the lowest and second lowest branches, and the number of small seeds. And grapevines that produced small seeds also produced more lower and second lowest branches.
These observations support the idea that the early growth of the grapevine, as well as subsequent patterns of growth, play a large role in determining how many seeds will be produced. Scientists can use this data to begin testing various hypotheses of why certain varieties produce more or fewer seeds.
In order to measure grapevine angles and branch lengths, a piece of tape and a ruler were used to mark branch angles and lengths.
Cranes Can Be “Fruit” on Fruit Trees
The blossoms and fruits of a fruit tree look similar to those of a rose.
It is therefore not surprising that modern fruit tree varieties are named for birds, including berries that are consumed by species such as turkeys, grouse, and parrots. Cranes are no exception, since most American peaches, plums, and nectarines were grown in modern American gardens. Cranes are an obvious name to identify fruit trees, and were first used as early as 1857.
But the original name for these cranelike fruits was nearly twice as old. The term “crab apple” is even older than “cranes,” dating to 1756 in England, and the fruit was named in 1776 in Sweden. Some varieties have been known by these names for hundreds of years.
As our ancestors collected fruit from the trees in their orchards, they probably recognized the yellow color of crab apples and cherries. The stems of these fruits, however, do not have the characteristic upright shape of other fruit trees. Instead, they seem to grow on the side of a tree, with the fruit hanging from the branch.
The unusual appearance of this fruit led to the name “cherries on a stalk.” Some of the earliest descriptions of these fruits simply used the name “cherries,” without the “on a stalk” label. For example, from the early 17th century, an English book says: “Cherries with a pink blossom on a stem of four fingers high and about the thickness of the stalk of the cherry.”
In another early 17th century book, a single figure called cherry “a fruit that grows on a stalk.” The early Americans who settled in the southeastern United States often called these fruit “ginger,” but sometimes also called them “cherry.” In North Carolina, we call these fruit “black cherries,” but the name of the fruit was used in a number of other states.
Though cranelike fruit with stems, the American cranberry is another interesting example of fruit tree relationships. It was once known by a number of names. Sometimes, cranberry was known as a “sweet berry,” as in “maple cranberry juice” or “apple cranberry sauce.” However, that is a modern term, as far as we can tell, and the original term cranberry is based on the Latin name for the shrub.