Fragaria vesca, commonly called wild strawberry, woodland strawberry, Alpine strawberry, Carpathian Strawberry, European strawberry, or fraisier des bois, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the rose family that grows naturally throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, and that produces edible fruits.
Five to eleven soft, hairy white flowers are borne on a green, soft-hairy 3–15 centimetres (1.2–5.9 in) stalk that usually lifts them above the leaves. The light-green leaves are trifoliate (in threes) with toothed margins. The plant spreads by means of runners (stolons).
Vilmorin-Andrieux (1885) makes a distinction between wild or wood strawberries (Fragaria vesca) and alpine strawberries (Fragaria alpina), a distinction which is not made by most seed companies or nurseries, which usually sell Fragaria vesca as "alpine strawberry".
Under wild or wood strawberry, Vilmorin says:
It has seldom been seen in gardens since the introduction of the Red Alpine Strawberry. ... Wood Strawberry possesses a quite particular perfume and delicacy of flavour. 2,500 seeds to the gramme.
Under alpine strawberry, Vilmorin says:
A very different plant to the Wood Strawberry, and distinguished by the greater size of all its parts — the fruit in particular — and especially by the property (which is particular to it) of producing flowers and fruit continuously all through the summer. ... The fruit has nearly the same appearance and flavour as that of the Wood Strawberry, but is generally larger, longer, and more pointed in shape. The seed is also perceptibly larger and longer. A gramme contains only about 1,500 seeds.
Typical habitat is along trails and roadsides, embankments, hillsides, stone- and gravel-laid paths and roads, meadows, young woodlands, sparse forest, woodland edges, and clearings. Often plants can be found where they do not get sufficient light to form fruit. In the southern part of its range, it can only grow in shady areas; further north it tolerates more sun. It is tolerant of a variety of moisture levels (except very wet or dry conditions). It can survive mild fires and/or establish itself after fires.
Its leaves serve as significant food source for a variety of ungulates, such as mule deer and elk, and the fruit are eaten by a variety of mammals and birds that also help to distribute the seeds in their droppings.
The alpine strawberry is used as an indicator plant for diseases that affect the garden strawberry. It is also used as a genetic model plant for garden strawberry and the family Rosaceae in general, due to its:
- very small genome size
- short reproductive cycle (14–15 weeks in climate-controlled greenhouses)
- ease of propagation.
The genome of Fragaria vesca was sequenced in 2010.
History, cultivation and uses
Evidence from archaeological excavations suggests that Fragaria vesca has been consumed by humans since the Stone Age. The woodland strawberry was first cultivated in ancient Persia where farmers knew the fruit as toot farangi.[dubious ] Its seeds were later taken along the Silk Road towards the far East and to Europe where it was widely cultivated until the 18th century, when it began to be replaced by the garden strawberry, (Fragaria × ananassa), which has much larger fruit and showed greater variation, making them better suited for further breeding.
Woodland strawberry fruit is strongly flavored, and is still collected and grown for domestic use and on a small scale commercially for the use of gourmets and as an ingredient for commercial jam, sauces, liqueurs, cosmetics and alternative medicine.
In Turkey, hundreds of tons of wild fruit are harvested annually, mainly for export. The Ottoman strawberry (also known as the Arnavutköy variety) was once cultivated in large quantities in the Arnavutköy neighbourhood of Istanbul. It is also grown extensively near the town of Karadeniz Ereğli in Zonguldak province, Turkey. A festival to celebrate the Ottoman strawberry is held at Karadeniz Ereğli in June each year.
Most of the cultivated varieties have a long flowering period (and have been considered by botanists as belonging to Fragaria vesca var. vesca ssp. semperflorens). They are usually called alpine strawberries. They either form runners or multiple crowns in a cluster, fruit over a very long period with larger fruit than the common wood strawberry, and are usually propagated by seeds or division of the plants. The type in cultivation is usually everbearing and produces few runners. Plants tend to lose vigour after a few years due to their abundant fruiting and flowering with final decline caused by viral diseases. Large-fruiting forms are known since the 18th century and were called "Fressant" in France. Some cultivars have fruit that are white or yellow when fully ripe, instead of the normal red.
Cultivars that form stolons are often used as groundcover, while cultivars that do not may be used as border plants. Some cultivars are bred for their ornamental value. Hybrids, Fragaria × vescana, have been created from crosses between woodland strawberry and garden strawberry. Hybrids between the woodland strawberry and the European species Fragaria viridis were in cultivation until around 1850, but are now lost.
Alpine strawberry has an undeserved reputation among home gardeners as hard to grow from seed, often with rumors of long and sporadic germination times, cold pre-chilling requirements, etc. In reality, with proper handling of the very small seeds (which can easily be washed away with rough watering), 80% germination rates at 70 °F within 1–2 weeks are easily achievable.
Garden varieties currently in cultivation
- Rügen, the first modern cultivar, i.e., runnerless, everbearing and large fruited — originating from Castle Putbus in Germany, first offered 1920 by the strawberry grower Emil Spangenberg from Morsleben.
- Alexandria, first offered 1964 by George W. Park Seed Co., USA
- Baron Solemacher, first offered 1935 by F. C. Heinemann, Germany
- Weisse Solemacher (white fruited) first offered by F. C. Heinemann
- Golden Alexandria (golden foliage).
Forms with runners are still found in old gardens.
- Quarantaine de Prin, France; commercially important before World War I, but now almost extinct; maybe identical to the variety Erigée de Poitou which was still offered around 1960.
- Blanc Amélioré, Great Britain; white-fruited; it is doubtful if the clone in circulation today is identical to the historical variety from around 1900 because of its non-everbearing habit; nevertheless a good variety with rather large, sometimes monstruous fruit of the Fressant type.
- Illa Martin, Germany; sold as an ornamental, white-fruited. Red achenes have been reported but have not been found. Most plants in circulation not true to name.
- Gartenfreude, Germany; large-fruited form, sometimes very large monstrous fruit of the Fressant type.
Curious mutations have arisen and are sometimes grown by plantsmen and other connoisseurs of the unusual:
- Monophylla (“Strawberry of Versailles”; has one large leaflet instead of the normal three leaflets) - Vilmorin-Andrieux (1885) stated as being raised by Duchesne.
- Multiplex (double flowered; sets less and smaller fruit)
- Muricata (“Plymouth strawberry”; the flowers are composed of numerous small, leafy bracts; the fruit are similarly spiky).
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- Chest of Books: William Curtis, The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-Garden Displayed, Vol. 1
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