Grow Antique Strawberry Plants

Learn everything you need to know about antique strawberry plants and how to grow strawberries.

| May/June 2015

If June has a flavor, it must be strawberry: sweet, tangy, fragrant and warm from the sun. No matter what the calendar says, when pick-your-own signs appear along the road, when pint boxes of local berries make their appearance at the farmers’ markets, when you stop weeding to pop that first crimson gem into your mouth, you know summer has arrived.

Now is the time for strawberry shortcake drenched with heavy cream, homemade smoothies, fresh strawberry pie mounded halfway to the clouds, berries sliced into yogurt or on breakfast cereal, fresh sauce over ice cream, homemade jams and jellies, and the uncounted berries that never make it into the gathering bowl — “One for the bowl, one for me; two for the bowl, one, two for me; three for the bowl, … .”

A few bits of trivia

The strawberry is interesting because it bears its fruit (the seeds) on the outside of the fleshy receptacle that we tend to equate to the fruit. On average, 200 seeds stud each berry. About 53 percent of 7- to 9-year-olds choose strawberries as their favorite fruit, over apples, oranges and bananas combined. Strawberries are grown in all 50 states and every Canadian province. The U.S. produces more than a million tons of strawberries each year.

Botanically speaking, strawberries are “forbs,” flowering plants that do not get woody as they age — they also belong to the rose family. A strawberry plant will form a crown, or compact stem, surrounded by a whorl of leaves, blossom stems and fibrous roots. Because they are perennial, they bear fruit for several years before production fades. Every year, they send out runners, horizontal stems that stretch across the soil, taking root and forming daughter plants as far as 2 feet from the mother plant.

Botanists have named the garden strawberry Fragaria x ananassa. Fragaria refers to that deliciously overwhelming fragrance, strongest in the alpine strawberry (F. vesca) and enough to make you swoon. The ‘x’ indicates that the garden strawberry is a hybrid of two species, the Virginian (F. virginiana) and Chilean (F. chiloensis) strawberries. Ananassa means “pineapple,” so someone apparently thought the two tasted similar at some point.

In the wild

Wild strawberries have been around for a long time. The first written record of them comes to us via Ancient Rome, as mentioned by Roman writers Pliny and Ovid. Apparently, Romans gathered them wild and used them as medicine. These wild berries were alpine, musk (F. moschata) and green (F. viridis) strawberries, ranging naturally across the whole of Europe and into Central Asia.

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