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Seed size variability: from carob to carats.

The seeds of various plants were used as weights because their mass reputedly varies so little. Carob (Ceratonia siliqua), which has given its name to the carat, is particularly famous in this regard. But are carob seeds unusually constant in weight and, if not, how did the myth arise? The variability of seeds sampled from a collection of carob trees (CV=23%) was close to the average of 63 species reviewed from the literature (CV=25%). However, in a perception experiment observers could discriminate differences in carob seed weight of around 5% by eye demonstrating the potential for humans to greatly reduce natural variation. Interestingly, the variability of pre-metrication carat weight standards is also around 5% suggesting that human rather than natural selection gave rise to the carob myth.

Pubmed ID: 17148413


  • Turnbull LA
  • Santamaria L
  • Martorell T
  • Rallo J
  • Hector A


Biology letters

Publication Data

September 22, 2006

Associated Grants


Mesh Terms

  • Fabaceae
  • Genetic Variation
  • Models, Biological
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Seeds
  • Species Specificity
  • Trees