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Wild Strawberry (Fragaria species)
When John Lennon spoke of "strawberry fields forever" he echoed the sentiments of writers since Shakespeare's Henry V of their celebration, love, and wonder of the strawberry. Strawberries, as known in today's produce markets, have been cultivated since the early 1800s when, in France, an accidental cross of a white-fruited variety from Chile and a red-fruited species from the then-colony of Virginia produced a larger, sweeter fruit.
Cherished as a supposed aphrodisiac in provincial France, a traditional soup of thinned sour cream, sugar, the herb borage, and strawberries was served to newly-weds. Native Americans made strawberry bread by crushing the wild berries with a mortar and mixing them with corn meal. Recent gene mapping research on strawberry varieties has revealed that there is a relatively shallow gene pool, representing only 53 founding clones from 17 cytoplasm sources for the world's cultivars. If this genetic base is not broadened, plant geneticists caution that inbreeding and vulnerability to stress, disease, and pests may cause significant worldwide crop losses. In the United States, 25 species of Fragaria have been identified, and are now part of the genetic holdings of the National Plant Germplasm System.
As most gardeners know, strawberries readily spread and reproduce via vegetative runners. The small berry illustrated here was taken from a wild plant growing in Tallahassee, Florida, and was not identified as either a native plant or naturalized cultivar. In Florida, commercial growing of strawberries has increased as strains that are resistant to fungal diseases have been developed by horticulturists, but the vast majority of the United States' production is from California (approximately 80 percent).
Bright red in color, strawberries are rich in vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, potassium, and phytochemicals. Strawberries contain flavonoids, anthocyanidin, ellagic acid, and other phenolic acid that possess anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties. Only eight medium-sized strawberries contain 96 milligrams of vitamin C, equivalent to 1.6 times the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recommended daily allowance (RDA). So remember, when biting into a slice of strawberry shortcake or enjoying some fresh strawberries with your milk and cereal, the berries not only look and taste good, they are very good for you.
Cynthia D. Kelly, Thomas J. Fellers and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.
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