Fruit Development and Ripening

The formation of fruits is typically triggered by sexual fertilization. Many changes occur in the flower accompanying fertilization, including the loss of petals, anthers, and stigma, modification or shedding of the sepals, development of the ovules into seeds, and formation of the embryo and endosperm within the seed. As part of fruit formation, the walls of the ovary surrounding the seeds are stimulated to resume cell division and to expand. The differences in the size and shapes of fruits are limited to some extent by the structure of the flower, and to an even larger degree by later patterns of growth.

Cross section of a Chardonnay grape.

cultivation growth of crop plants, or turning the soil for this purpose compound a substance formed from two or more elements substrate the physical structure to which an organism attaches sepals the outermost whorl of flower parts; usually green and leaflike, they protect the inner parts of the flower endosperm the nutritive tissue in a seed, formed by fertilization of a diploid egg tissue by a sperm from pollen sepals the outermost whorl of flower parts; usually green and leaflike, they protect the inner parts of the flower endosperm the nutritive tissue in a seed, formed by fertilization of a diploid egg tissue by a sperm from pollen

stimulus trigger

Some fruits do not form seeds, such as bananas and seedless grapes. Fruits produced without seeds are examples of so-called parthenocarpic fruits, in which ovules (precursors of seeds) are formed but do not successfully fertilize.

Plant hormones play an important role in the formation and maturation of fruit. Fleshy fruits grow and thicken in response to hormonal growth signals emitted by fertilized seeds. In strawberries, for example, seed formation is highly successful except for the tip of the fruit, which is poorly developed. Where seeds are underdeveloped, so is the fruit. The stimulus for fruit production in this plant can be replaced by a plant hormone known as auxin, which is often produced by developing seeds. Fruit maturation and the development of fruit color are triggered by a later-occurring hormonal signal, produced by the gas ethylene. For grocery stores, fruit is often picked before becoming ripe because unripe fruit is not as easily bruised. To ripen the fruits for sale, a human-made gas related to ethylene is used after harvest, causing the immature fruit to develop its characteristic color and texture.

Once the fruit is ripe, the pedicel or stem that holds the fruit begins to seal itself off from the plant, under the influence of the hormone abscisic acid (ABA). When this hormone is produced, fruit drop is stimulated. To prevent fruit drop, another hormone called cytokinin can be used to inhibit the production of ABA and delay overripening and fruit drop. Oranges and other citrus crops can be harvested yearlong by inhibiting fruit drop and senescence through the application of a cytokinin. Citrus fruits, which normally mature in the winter, can thus be harvested year round.

A careful examination of the fruit reveals how the tissues change during development. In citrus fruits, like grapefruits and oranges, the bulk of the fleshy fruit is formed by small juice sacs, which originate from small hairs lining the inside of the pistil. These juice sacs are simply hairs that swell at different positions along their length, filling the fruit. The nature of these hairs can be seen by gently teasing a few sacs from the center of the fruit. The fleshiness of the tomato fruit is the result of the swelling of the placenta, a tissue that connects the seeds to the walls. Frequently, the ovary wall itself forms most of the fruit, but the exact region of thickening differs in each plant group. In squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins for example, the middle of the ovary wall grows thicker than the inner and outer layers, whereas in grapes, the inner wall grows thicker, and in watermelons, the outer wall is particularly thick. In dry fruits, the thickening of the ovary wall is sometimes accompanied by cell hardening, which is caused by chemical changes in the cell walls. These hardened cells form the walls of nuts and other hard fruits. In dry fruits, the walls of the fruit are no longer living.

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