Notice

Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Fragaria x ananassa Duchesne

A low-growing perennial herb, spreading by means of runners. The leaves have 3 leaflets, toothed, the white flowers are borne in small clusters and are followed by the edible red berry bearing small seed-like fruits on its surface. [RHSD, Hortus].

Horticultural & Botanical History

Strawberries have been an appreciated fruit for centuries, but the large-fruited hybrids with which we are familiar today have been developed relatively recently. ‘Previously and for many centuries, fruits from three European species were collected from the wild for eating. The most common, Fragaria vesca, was the first to be transplanted to the garden in the late Middle Ages, and plants were cutivated on a large scale in the Royal Gardens at the Louvre, Paris., during the reign of Charles V (1364-80). The alpine strawberry, F. vesca var. semperflorens, was not brought into cultivation until the 18th century, and about that time two other European species were domesticated, F. moschata and F. viridis. The former was the Hautbois strawberry, of which red- and white-fruited forms were known. The sexes were often on different plants, a fact not understood at the time but which was the reason for its erratic yields. All the European species have small fruits and, unlike other soft fruits, seemed incapable of improvement by selection.

The introduction of two Fragaria species from America and their cross-pollination was the start of the development of modern large-fruited strawberries. The species were the small aromatic F. virginiana, native to eastern North America, and the larger F. chiloensis, which grows wild on the Pacific coast from Alaska to Chile. Both were introduced first to France: F. virginiana ws reported to be growing there in 1624, and was introduced to England soon after. F. chiloensis arrived in 1714, five plants having survived a six-month’s voyage across the Atlantic. These plants, which had been selected for their large fruits, were all female, needing cross-pollination for regular fruiting. A. W. Duchesne (1747-1827) was the first to understand this, and he described the ‘pineapple strawberry’ (F. chiloense x F. virginiana = F. x ananassa) in his Histoire Naturelle des Fraisiers (1766).

Work in France on developing the hybrid was inhibited by the political turmoil of the Revolution, and the first important cultivars were produced in England by a nurseryman, Michael Keens. He introduced ‘Keens’ Imperial’ in 1814 and ‘Keens’ Seedling’ in 1823. Two other historically important cultivars were bred by Thomas Andrew Knight (1759-1838), namely ‘Elton Seedling’ and ‘Downton’. [RHSD/1999].

The Gardeners Chronicle of 1848 gave no doubt useful advice to the gardener wishing to establish a strawberry bed: ‘The following will form a good selection of strawberries and they may be planted in the relative proportions indicated: Keen’s seedling, 20; British Queen, 12; Old Pine, 16; Downton, 8; Elton, 8; Myatt’s Eliza, 4; Andean Scarlet, 4; Roseberry, 4; Late Scarlet, 4; Prolific Hautbois, 8; Large Flat Hautbois, 4; Red Alpine, 8.’ An interesting mix of the old and the new, illustrating that it took some years for the large-fruited hybrids to dominate the garden, as they do today.

The illustration used here is of Fragaria chiloensis, imported from Argentina by Luther Burbank. [Burbank p.89/1914].

History at Camden Park

The Strawberries grown by William Macarthur, only five varieties up until 1857, are also a fascinating mix of the ancient Old World strawberries, the newer, Chilean strawberries and the very modern large-fruited hybrids. They are treated separately in the Hortus with a botanic name appropriate to their origins.

Notes

Published Jun 06, 2010 - 01:12 PM | Last updated Jun 06, 2010 - 01:19 PM

Figured is a strawberry with 3-lobed, toothed leaves, white flowers and roundish red fruits. Burbank p.89, 1914.

Fragaria chiloensis (L.) Mill. | Burbank p.89/1914 | BHL. The wild Chilean strawberry.

Family Rosaceae
Category
Region of origin

Garden origin, Europe

Synonyms
Common Name

Strawberry

Name in the Camden Park Record

Strawberry

Confidence level

high