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What is Carpology?

By C. Martin
Updated May 16, 2024
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Carpology is a branch of botany comprising the study of seeds and fruits, and in particular their structure and morphology. In carpology, fruits are often regarded as an important anatomical structure of a plant whose function is to ensure that the seeds of the plant are successfully distributed. In addition, the fruit may directly or indirectly assist the seed to germinate.

Functional variations in the shape and other characteristics of fruits are often related to how the seed of the plant is dispersed. A fruit may be enticing for animals to eat so that the seed is ingested, passes through the animal’s digestive tract, and is then deposited some distance away, often accompanied by a convenient helping of manure. Other fruits may have spikes or hooks on their surface and may be dispersed in the coats of passing animals. Yet other kinds of fruits have evolved into aerodynamic shapes that enable the seeds to be dispersed by the wind.

In the field of carpology, botanists dissect and study any kind of fruit. A fruiting organ of a plant may be regarded as being made up of a seed, plus a fruit whose role is to protect the seed and aid its distribution and germination. The component structures of a fruit include the internal seed and the outer surrounding pericarp. This pericarp is usually made up of three layers, called the endocarp, the mesocarp, and the exocarp.

The endocarp is usually a hard cover immediately surrounding the seed. Next comes the mesocarp, which is often referred to as the "fleshy" part of the fruit. Finally, there is an outer covering called the exocarp, which is typically a tough, skin-like structure, such as the skin on the outside of an apple or orange.

In carpology, fruits may be classified according to their structure as either simple fruits, aggregate fruits, or multiple fruits. Examples of simple fruits include plums, apples, and peas. Examples of aggregate fruits include strawberries and blackberries. Multiple fruits include figs and pineapples.

A carpologist may study plant anatomy and plant reproduction, and may work in such places as an agricultural research organization, a dedicated botanical research institute, or a university. One of the important applications of carpology may be research that can be used to increase agricultural output and quality of fruit crops. Carpology research may even contribute to the development of seedless varieties of fruits that are very popular with consumers.

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