Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG
One of the most glorious treats of the spring garden must be a fresh bowl of strawberries. In our modern age of global marketing, strawberries are never out of season in the grocery stores, but they never taste the same as those picked fresh from the garden. Let us explore the history of this luscious fruit.
The modern strawberry is an evergreen herbaceous perennial of the rose family. Under the short days of winter and spring, it grows as a single crown with large, bright green compound leaves. The white, five-petaled flowers appear in mid-spring and open over a three- to four-week period. The large, luscious berries ripen about a month after flowering. When days get long in summer, strawberries produce runners that strew new plantlets across the garden bed. The word “strawberry” is thought to have possibly been derived from “strew berry,” a descriptive name for the plant.
Strawberries have always been enjoyed as a delectable spring treat. Europeans gathered their wild species, Fragaria vesca, from ancient times and eventually selected forms that they grew in their gardens. Native Americans too gathered and probably grew strawberries, but they used F. virginiana. Both of these species are flavorful - at least if a flavorful clone is grown - but are they ever small, with fruit not much bigger than the tip of my pinkie finger.
Military intrigue lead to the development of the modern strawberry. In 1714, Amedee Frezier, a French military engineer and rumored spy for Louis XIV, was secretly mapping the Chilean coast around Concepcion when he came upon a strawberry growing in the dunes. He described them as “big as a walnut and sometimes as a hen’s egg…” but with an inferior taste to the European species. He potted some plants up and six of them survived the six-month-long journey back to France. Eventually this species was given the name F. chiloensis.
Over the next couple decades, European gardeners and bees did what comes naturally to them. By 1766, it was recognized that the two American species had hybridized and created a large-fruited, deep red cross that combined the fruit size of the Chilean species with the deep red color and flavorful taste of the Virginia species. To an early taste-tester, these hybrids reminded him or her of the sweetness of pineapples, so when botanists got around to assigning it a name they called it F. x ananassa, after the Latin name for pineapple.
By the early 19th century, the hybrids began to displace their smaller, wild cousins in gardens. In a nursery list published in 1829, there were 28 kinds listed; by 1832 the number had jumped to 112. By 1877, more than 800 cultivars were described
Modern strawberry clones come in two broad categories: the spring-bearing and the so-called everbearing clones. The spring-bearing kinds flower in mid-spring and set one crop of fruit, whereas the everbearing kinds produce a few flowers throughout the season and can, if grown in a properly cool climate, produce fruit on and off during the summer. Commercial growers take advantage of both types and an array of growing conditions, including greenhouse production, to provide fresh fruit throughout the year.
Strawberries do best in a fertile, well-drained garden soil that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight. Spring plantings will flower and fruit the following spring. Most gardeners use what is called the “matted bed system,” which essentially is a densely planted bed 3 to 4 feet wide and as long as your craving for strawberries requires. In the summer, the old crowns are removed and younger crowns are allowed to fill in the space in the bed. If attention to weed control is maintained, beds can usually remain in production three or four years. Though there are a host of strawberry pest problems, they are fairly easy to grow, and most home gardeners will be rewarded for their efforts.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - May 7, 2010
Plant of the Week: Lycium barbarum Goji Berry, Lifeberry, Wolfberry Periodically, I crawl out from under my rock and see what is going on in the world. Recently I discovered a new plant growing in the garden called Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum). Checking it out on the Internet, I discovered I must be one of the few people on the planet who knew nothing of it and was instantly intrigued by the potential it has for making me live longer, lose weight and be a better all-around person.
Goji berry, also called Wolfberry or Lifeberry, is a member of the tomato family and is one of 80 species of Lycium scattered throughout South America, Africa and Asia. Seven species are found in China with Goji berry and a closely related species (L. chinense) grown commercially for their dried fruit. Goji is native to the cold, dry region of north central China and is extensively grown there as both an agricultural crop and to stabilize the shifting sands that are becoming increasingly common there. L. chinense is grown in warmer areas, including tropical regions.
Goji berry is a deciduous woody shrub growing 8-10 feet tall with slender sprawling branches that are armed with thin spines. This plant is often referred to as a vining plant, but in reality it is a “thorn climber” that, if left unpruned, climbs by piling new growth on older growth, surrounding plants until it reaches the light.
Leaves are alternately on the stem or in clusters of three, deciduous, elliptical or lanceolate (shaped like the head of a lance), and as long as 2 ½ inches. Flowers are ¾ inch across, 5-petaled, light lavender in color and show a ready resemblance to other members of the nightshade family. They bloom on new growth and are produced in early summer, and more or less continually through the summer as long as the plant continues growing.
Goji berries are true berries (just as the tomato is actually a berry), orange red in color, slender-oval in shape and as long as an inch in length. If cut open, 15-20 tiny seeds are produced in fleshy chambers, much similar to a tomato. Berries hang from a peduncle that is inflated as it attaches to the fruit and has five short green calyx segments. The berries ripen during much of the summer, based on when the flower opened. Plants are self-fruitful and do not need a different clone for fruit set.
Goji berry has apparently been cultivated for several millennia in China, where it is considered one of the “tonic herbs” – like ginseng – that is good for whatever ails you. It found its way into Western culture during the last years of the 20th century, during the antioxidant spurt that had researchers testing everything we consume for the ability to tie up free radicals. Goji berry was close to the top of some of these lists in antioxidant activity, though just marginally higher than common fruit such as citrus and strawberries, so it became a natural for the rapidly-expanding Internet market.
If you believe the hype, Goji berry does everything from fighting the aging process to making you thinner and improving your eyesight. These claims – with nothing in the way of rigorous blind testing trials – are supposedly due to the aforementioned antioxidant properties of the fruit. There have been several cease and desist suits filed against Goji berry promoters for claiming it cures cancer, but mostly it falls into the largely unregulated “food supplements” market.
In the garden, Goji berry plants can be grown as free-standing bushes that are cut back severely each spring or trellised much as you would grapes. They should have full sun, a well-drained neutral to alkaline soil and free air circulation to keep the foliage dry, thus avoiding mildew problems. It is reported as being hardy from zones 3 through 10, but most likely L. barbarum is what is grown in colder climates while L. chinense is more likely suited for warmer regions. Once established, plants are quite drought tolerant. Though it can be grown from seed, clonally propagated selections should be chosen to ensure best fruit quality and production.
By: Gerald Klingaman, Retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - Aug. 28, 2015
These fast-growing species of the genus Physalis are also known as husk tomatoes, tomatilloes, strawberry tomatoes, bladder cherries, and poppers (the Chinese Lantern is a popular, non-edable ornamental variety). They belong to the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, tobacco, and nightshade.
Used by the Pilgrims; ground cherries are excellent for pies, jams, and preserves of all kinds. The fruit grow inside a paper-like husk (the same as Tomatillos). Grow it the same as you would tomatoes.
Ground cherries taste like a mix between a sweet tomato and a berry or pineapple and are good by themselves, in a salad or even in a bowl of vanilla ice cream.