How watercress is like a tomato

Like tomatoes, watercress is used as a fresh salad vegetable or in cooked dishes.But like tomatoes, watercress has a dual identity

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We all know a tomato is a vegetable. We cook it in soups, stews, and chili. We pair it with leafy green vegetables in salads. Cookbooks list it with other vegetable recipes

But plant science categorizes tomatoes as fruit.  Any thing that grows on a plant and is the means by which that plant gets its seeds out into the world is a fruit. Another way to say it is

“the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant; especially : one having a sweet pulp.”
Photo by PhotoMIX Company on

A banana is an elongated, edible fruit – botanically a berry – produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa.

But the most convincing reason to call a tomato a fruit, is because the Supreme Court said so.

In 1893, the high court ruled  on whether imported tomatoes should be taxed under the Tariff Act of 1883, which only applied to vegetables and not fruits.

Although both sides cited dictionary definitions of the two words, the court sided unanimously with the vegetable lobby although acknowledging the scientific fact.

Justice Horace Grey summed up the argument succinctly:

“Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas,”

“But in the common language of the people … all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”

Justice Horace Grey
A young African woman with a crate of tomatoes on her head
photo of a young woman in Madagascar carrying a box of tomatoes on her head
by Bob Birkbeck, LIGHTSTOCK.COM

We usually find fruits sweeter than vegetables. Botanically speaking, any part of a plant that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant is a fruit, while all other parts of the plant are considered vegetables.

But tomatoes as well as cucumbers, avocados, olives, green peppers, pumpkin,and zucchini are technically fruits, even if they are used as vegetables in meals.

So how is watercress like a tomato?

Watercress is a vegetable-a green, leafy, cruceriferous vegetable. Part of the Cruciferae or Brassicaceae family, it is related to other vegetables like cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, rocket, cauliflower and radish.

Like tomatoes, watercress is used as a fresh salad vegetable or in cooked dishes.

Versatile watercress can be enjoyed as a salad vegetable, in soups and smoothies, in cooked dishes such as stir-fries, sauces for pasta ,on pizza and fish dishes.

The watercress plant does produce fruit, but we don’t eat them. Here’s a description of watercress from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Stems succulent, hollow, and much branched, 1 to many, 4–25 in. long, rooting at nodes.
  • Leaves pinnately divided; leaflets 3–7, oval to egg-shaped, entire to wavy-edged.
  • Flowers small(6 mm, diameter) in terminal clusters, white.
  • Sepals, erect, green, about 3 mm long;
  • petals white,about 4 mm long and 4 long stamens (male part) attached near their bases to the filaments.
  • Ovary about 3 mm long, style short, stigma with two lobes.
  • Fruits borne on spreading pedicels and slightly curved upward. The double row of seeds in each half of the siliqua is a well marked character. (Siliqua is a narrow elongated seed capsule peculiar to the family Cruciferae.)
    The valves of the ripe siliqua beaded; seeds suborbicular and compressed, with 25 alveoli on each side of the testa(protective outer layer).

I have no training in botany so I understand little of this, but I surmise that the fruit of the watercress has to do with reproduction, since other “fruits” have seeds. But no, I don’t think we can call watercress a fruit.

a drawing of a nastutium plant-watercress
But like tomatoes, watercress has a dual identity; watercress is a vegetable, but it is also an herb.

Watercress is an aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial herb with bright white flowers that resemble the shape of a cross; hence, an old name (Cruciferae) for the mustard family, to which watercress belongs.

Watercress by Dave Moore
Nasturtium officinale W.T. Aiton - watercress NAOF
Watercress is a
  • freshwater, aquatic flowering plant
  • an invasive weed
  • a cruciferous vegetable
  • a perenniel herb with nutritional and medicinal properties

And what is an herb? Follow this blog for my next post exploring the HEART of watercress.

And an apple is still a fruit Dr.Aletha

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