University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
The term “small fruits” refers to those fruiting plants with, you guessed it, generally small fruits.  They grow on shrubs or low groundcovers, rather than trees—the tree fruits.  Common examples of small fruits are raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.  Also common are some terms you’ll see when reading about these in books and catalogs.

A main grouping of small fruits are the “brambles” which include raspberries and blackberries.  They generally have thorns (there are some thornless selections but often these are less hardy), often spread (look for those that don’t if this can be a problem), and are in the same genus (Rubus).  When raspberries are ripe they should easily slip off the central “receptacle” or “core” when gently pulled.  Blackberries, particularly wild ones, in some areas are called “black caps”.
The shoots of brambles are called “canes”.  Raspberries generally make fruit on shoots that are two years old — the “floricanes”.  The first year shoots are the “primocanes”.  If a selection fruits on first year shoots, such as the fall-bearing raspberries, it is called “primocane-bearing”.
Many of the small fruits are commonly called “berries”-- those which are usually eaten whole.  Botanically, a berry arises from one flower, with soft flesh around one or more seeds.  Actually strawberries and raspberries are “aggregate” fruit, made up of many tiny fruit.  For brambles, these tiny fruit are called “drupelets”.

There are several terms to know if you grow strawberries, related to groupings and growth needs.  Those “cultivars” (cultivated varieties) that spread with stems, forming new plants on the ends (“runners”), should be planted in “matted rows”.  Those that form clumps without many runners are for planting in “hills”.  After picking berries, before eating them you’ll remove the green stem ends called “caps”.

Most strawberries fruit in June, so are called “June bearers”.  They actually form fruit from flowers that, in turn, formed the previous fall when days got shorter (“short day” cultivars).  The other strawberries that bear more than once are often lumped into “everbearers”.  The older everbearers, of which few are still sold, really only fruited in June and again in fall.  The newer cultivars are often referred to instead as “day neutral” since daylength doesn’t affect their flowering and fruiting.  Day neutral strawberries may fruit three times during the season, including a bit earlier than the June bearers.

Grapes have the most special terms perhaps of any of the small fruits.  The two main groupings of grapes are those for fresh eating (“table”) and “wine grapes” (also used to make juice).  The “arms” are stems or shoots two or more years old, or short branches off the trunk from which future canes develop. Long horizontal arms are the “cordons”. (But, with tree fruits, cordon refers to those trained upright into a columnar shape.) One-year old shoots are called “canes”.  From the canes come the shoots called “spurs” that produce the grapes. 

If the grapes split, as after a heavy rain, this is called “cracking”.  Some cultivars are more resistant to cracking.  “Veraison” is the stage of grape development when they start showing coloring and soften.

Grape shoots can be on any of a number of trellis systems.  Some are descriptive, such as “high wire” (one wire about 4 feet off the ground between posts), or “low wire” (one wire about 2 feet off the ground).  Then there are the pruning systems, the two main ones being “cane pruning” (two wire, four cane, Kniffen system) and “spur pruning”.  While the former is most often used, the latter is best for muscadines and vigorous grape selections (such as cold climate selections in the north).

In some areas, the southern muscadines are known as “scuppernongs” although these should have pink to bronze skin, not black. Other than the muscadines, most grapes are often called “bunch grapes”.  Many muscadines are “slip skins” – when ripe fruit are squeezed the inner pulp slips out.

Many more useful terms, and more detailed descriptions, for both small and tree fruits can be found in the Fruit Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry, or online (

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