Let me clarify on that title, because this question focuses specifically on vegetables that have not been cultivated for their fruits--like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and pumpkins--or their roots (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, yams and casavas) but for either their leaves (lettuce and spinach), their pods (beans and peas) or their bulbs (onions and garlics). Note that none of those grow in trees or other woody plants and do not rely on animals or even the wind for pollination.

But in an alternate Earth where vegetables that are cultivated for their leaves, pods and bulbs do grow in trees, would they need to modify those features so that they can be pollinated by either animals or the wind, or would, say, onion bulbs qualify as fruit?

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    $\begingroup$ The tongue in cheek answer would be that if they grew on trees they would be fruits. =) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 14, 2017 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ permaculturenews.org/2016/08/15/… $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2017 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ As a matter of fact, they do. A search for "edible tree leaves" returns 14 million hits, of which the first is this: wildplantforager.com/blog/… I quite enjoy new spruce needles in the spring, myself. And while it's not exactly a tree, grape leaves are used in Greek cooking... $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 14, 2017 at 5:12
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    $\begingroup$ By definition, any part of a plant, other than fruit and seed, that people eat, is a vegetable. So it entirely depends on where on the plant it's growing $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Aug 14, 2017 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman, a lot of things that people call vegetables are fruit, tomato cucumber, marrow, pumpkin etc. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Aug 14, 2017 at 7:05

2 Answers 2

  • Beans are members of Fabaceae or Leguminosae; it is a large family which includes several genera of trees, such as Acacia. "Indigenous Australians have traditionally harvested the seeds of some species [of Acacia], to be ground into flour and eaten as a paste or baked into a cake. The seeds contain as much as 25% more protein than common cereals, and they store well for long periods due to the hard seed coats" (Wikipedia). So yes, one can imagine a bean tree.

  • Onions are monocots. Most monocots are herbaceous; there are no true trees among the monocots, the closest thing being the palms. The bulb of the onion corresponds to the stem of a tree. So no, onions and garlic cannot be imagined as trees.

  • The leaves of some trees are edible. There is nothing to forbid the development of tree varieties cultivated for their leaves. So yes, one can imagine an orchard providing leaves for the salad.

As an aside, there is a variety of cabbage, Jersey Cabbage, which produces long woody stems which were historically used to make walking sticks...

Jersey cabbage

(Picture of a Jersey "tree" cabbage, by Sherwin Carlquist, available on Wikipedia under the CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.)


Let me challenge your question. Biologically there are no such things as vegetables.

A fruit is the enlarged ovary of a seed bearing plant.

Things we consider vegetables are parts of the plant:

  • Lettuce is the leaves of the plant
  • Celery and asparagus is the stalk of the plant
  • Broccoli and cauliflower are the flowers of a plant
  • Tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants, which most consider vegetables, are, in fact, fruits.
  • Most types of beans are legumes
  • Onions, potatoes, carrots, celeriac, turnips, etc. are roots

So to answer your question, vegetables and fruits are simply parts of plants that people separate linguistically. So in reality it's just what we call them, not what they are botanically.

  • $\begingroup$ No, it does not answer the question. If anything, it avoids it. You've abused the Answer part because the Answer part is to ANSWER the question, not challenge it. That's why it is called the "Answer" section. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2017 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ This answer doesn't avoid the question. It answers it, though maybe not to your satisfaction. If the thing growing on the tree is the encapsulating nourishing matter for the seed, it's a fruit. If it's literally anything else, we'd probably call it a "vegetable". This answer is correct in that a "vegetable" is a really vague and imprecise word that describes numerous different kinds of foods. Basically, as this answer says, "vegetables" are just "not fruit". $\endgroup$
    – Attackfarm
    Aug 14, 2017 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Attackfarm So an onion on a tree would be a fruit? $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2017 at 5:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey, consider the part of the plant that an onion is. It doesn't become a fruit because it still remains the same part of the plant. The trouble is that biologically there's no such thing as a vegetable, it's a term that exists only in the kitchen and supermarket. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Aug 14, 2017 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer mean I now have a biological reason to NEVER EAT VEGETABLES AGAIN?!?!? $\endgroup$
    – CaM
    Aug 14, 2017 at 15:44

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