As part of a book section on gender I had a close look at the question of the gender of words for fruit and trees. Many readers are undoubtedly aware of the frequent gender pattern of “feminine fruit, masculine tree” exemplified by manzana ‘apple’ and manzano ‘apple tree’. I did a somewhat exhaustive survey of fruit and tree vocabulary to see how regular this pattern is. Linguee was my best friend in this quest.
It turns out that for feminine fruit names, the pattern holds strong. As you can see in the table below, most feminine fruits do have a corresponding masculine tree name, though a few have less frequent alternatives as well (shown in italics). The one major exception is morera ‘mulberry’, whose tree is the same word, morera. Spanish obviously needs a morero tree.
|Feminine fruit||Masculine tree||-ero||árbol de ____||same word|
|manzana ‘apple’||manzano||árbol de manzanas|
Not all fruits are feminine, however, and the treatment of masculine fruits is much more varied. The tree of the higo is actually the feminine higuera, thus a major counterexample to the regular pattern shown above. Other fruits rely on the -ero suffix for their tree name, a sometimes ungainly solution (albaricoquero, anyone?). Some fruits have no dedicated tree name, and rely on the periphrastic árbol de construction (also listed as a backup for higuera, melocotonero, and albaricoquero). The treatment of aguacate ‘avocado’ varies depending on where you look. According to WordReference and the Real Academia aguacate, like morera, does double duty as a tree and a fruit, with the “tree” meaning primary. WordReference also lists aguacatero as an alternative for ‘avocado tree’, but the Real Academia defines it merely as ‘pertaining to the avocado’ — nothing arboreal there. In the meantime, Linguee defines aguacate as a fruit, not a tree, and gives aguacatero as its only translation for ‘avocado tree.’
|Masculine fruit||Feminine tree||-ero||árbol de||same word|
|higo||higuera||árbol de higo|
|melocotón, durazno||melocotonero||árbol de durazno|
|albaricoque||albaricoquero||árbol de albaricoque|
|membrillo||árbol de membrillo|
|mango||árbol de mango|
If I were the goddess of Spanish I would clean up this situation by changing the gender of some of the masculine fruits so they could have nice masculine tree names. Perhaps the next generation of Spanish speakers will get this job done.