Fragrantly sweet strawberries are the most popular type of berry fruit in the world. Although they have become increasingly available year-round, they are at the peak of their season from April through July when they are the most delicious and most abundant.
While there are more than 600 varieties of strawberries that differ in flavor, size and texture, one can usually identify a strawberry by its red flesh that has small seeds piercing its surface, and a small, regal, green leafy cap and stem that adorn its crown. Most commercially grown strawberries come from the genus-species Fragaria ananassa. Cultivation of this particular genus-species has been taking place for nearly 300 years. Much older still, however, are wild strawberries that typically below to the genus-species Fragaria vesca. Wild strawberries are known to have existed for more than 2,000 years. While typically smaller in size than cultivated strawberries, wild strawberries often feature a more intense flavor. In the U.S., commercial strawberry production is largely limited to the coastal and southern inland regions of California and to the East Coast, where Florida production becomes especially important during the winter months. Fragaria virginiana is a popular genus-species of strawberry grown in the U.S. along side of the genus-species Fragaria ananassa.
Strawberries have grown wild for millennia in temperature regions throughout the world. While cultivation of strawberries doesn’t date back this far, it still dates back hundreds and hundreds of years.
It was not until the 18th century, however, when cultivation of strawberries began to be pursued in earnest. In 1714, a French engineer sent to Chile and Peru to monitor Spanish activities in these countries “discovered” a strawberry native to this region that was much larger than those grown in Europe. He brought many samples back to France, which were subsequently planted. These plants did not originally flourish well until a natural crossbreeding occurred between this species and a neighboring North American strawberry variety that was planted nearby in the field. The result was a hybrid strawberry that was large, juicy and sweet, and one that quickly grew in popularity in Europe.
The strawberry, like many other perishable fruits at this time, remained a luxury item only enjoyed by the wealthy until the mid-19th century. Once railways were built and more rapid means of transportation established, strawberries were able to be shipped longer distances and were able to be enjoyed by more people. Today, using a commonplace, layperson’s definition of the word “berry,” the strawberry has become the most popular berry fruit in the world. (In technical scientific terms, this distinction would go to bananas, since their seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary, and that characteristic is used to classify berries versus non-berries. In fact, when considered from a technical scientific standpoint, strawberries are not berries at all, but rather “accessory fruits” in which the delicious substance that we eat is not directly produced from the ovary. But for most of us, despite these technical scientific distinctions, strawberries count as some of the best berries ever!)