The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Strawberry

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The American Cyclopædia
Strawberry
Edition of 1879. Written by George ThurberSee also Strawberry on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

STRAWBERRY, a well known wild and cultivated fruit, the Anglo-Saxon name of which, streawberige or streowberie, was probably derived from the straw-like stems of the plant or from the berries lying strewn on the ground. The several species belong to the genus fragaria (from the ancient Latin name fraga), of the rose family; they are stemless perennial herbs, with compound leaves of three obovate, wedge-shaped, coarsely serrate leaflets, and multiply by runners, which are long weak branches, forming a bud at the end which soon develops roots and leaves, and by the decay of the branch connecting it with the parent becomes an independent plant. The flowers are in a cyme at the end of an erect scape, with a five-lobed, spreading, persistent calyx, and as many bractlets alternating, and thus appearing ten-cleft; petals (mostly white) five; stamens numerous; pistils simple, seated upon a convex receptacle, which when the ovaries are ripe is greatly enlarged, becoming pulpy and edible, and is popularly regarded as the fruit; it is really the much altered end of the stem (see Plant), while the true fruits are the small seed-like akenes, the ripened ovaries, which are scattered over its surface or sunk in little depressions. By abortion of the stamens some of the species become more or less diœcious.

AmCyc Strawberry - Section of Flower and Fruit.jpg

Section of Flower and Fruit.

—The strawberry is found in all temperate parts of the northern hemisphere and in the mountains of South America. While Bentham and Hooker state that there are not more than three or four well defined species, a dozen or more have been described, the plants being, even in the wild state, very variable, while the varieties in cultivation resulting from hybridizing, crossing, and sporting are innumerable. Two species are widely distributed throughout the United States, and one is peculiar to the Pacific coast. The Virginian or common wild strawberry (fragaria Virginiana) is found from arctic America to Florida, and west to the Rocky mountains. Its leaves are rather thick, smooth on the upper surface, often shining; the hairs silky and appressed; the calyx erect after flowering; fruit mostly globular, with a narrow neck, and the akenes (seeds) sunken in deep pits in the surface of the receptacle. This has been described under many different names, as it varies greatly, and the western forms appear very different from the eastern.

AmCyc Strawberry - Alpine Strawberry.jpg

Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca).

The Alpine strawberry (F. vesca), the common species of Europe, is indigenous to this country, especially far northward, extending to Oregon and the N. W. coast; it is found throughout Europe and northern and central Asia. It has thin pale green leaves, the upper surface strongly marked by veins; flower stalks longer than the leaves; calyx remaining open after flowering; receptacle conical or elongated, with the akenes attached to the surface, and not as in the preceding sunk in pits. A taller form is known as the wood strawberry. This was the earliest species cultivated, and is mentioned in the street cries of London of over 400 years ago; the garden of the bishop of Ely at Holborn was in 1483 celebrated for its strawberries, a fact alluded to by Shakespeare in “Richard III.” A number of varieties of this are cultivated, but they are more popular in Europe than in this country. The Chilian strawberry (F. Chilensis, the F. grandiflora of some) is found on the Pacific coast from Oregon southward; it is very robust, with leathery, thick leaflets of a dark green, and sometimes silky on both surfaces, or only below; the flowers are larger than in any other species, and the large yellowish white or rose-colored fruit, sometimes as large as a small hen's egg, erect. This was introduced into the south of France in 1712, and many valuable varieties resulted from hybridizing it with other species. The Indian strawberry (F. Indica) is from upper India, and is naturalized in the southern states; it differs so much from the other species that it was formerly placed in a distinct genus (Duchesnea); it has yellow flowers, and is a showy house plant, especially for window baskets, but the fruit is dry and tasteless. — Of the cultivated American varieties, some are pistillate only, and must be planted near perfect flowered varieties, in order that they may be fertilized and bear fruit. The present tendency of cultivators is to discard all unisexual kinds. The great step in their improvement was in the production of “Hovey's seedling,” raised by C. M. Hovey of Cambridge, Mass., over 40 years ago; it is a nearly pure Virginian, and has not been excelled if equalled in quality; it is a pistillate, and needs careful cultivation. The next great step was in the production of “Wilson's Albany,” or “Wilson” as it is generally called, a most hardy and productive variety, with perfect flowers. Besides the above, the leading American varieties are “Agriculturist,” “Seth Boyden,” “Charles Downing,” “Donner's Prolific,” “Kentucky,” “Nicanor,” and “Monarch of the West.” Among the European kinds which succeed here on suitable soils are “Triomphe de Gand,” “Jucunda,” and “La Constante.” — The cultivation of the strawberry is now an important branch of horticulture, the fruit being sent to the city markets from great distances, especially by water. In New York city the first supplies come from Georgia and the Carolinas; then Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware send large quantities before the New Jersey season begins; this lasts' three or four weeks, and then the later fruit comes from Connecticut and Massachusetts. The culture requires a well fertilized soil; the plants are formed by runners as already described; they may be set in autumn or spring, but the plants must grow one year in place before they give a crop. The method of planting and cultivation varies. In the annual method, the plants are set in rows two feet apart and a foot apart in the rows; one crop is taken and the plants are ploughed under, another field being ready to come into bearing to take its place. Another method is to plant in the same manner, let the plants run, and the next spring, when the spaces or paths between the rows are filled with new plants, to plough out other paths, turning under the old plants and allowing the new ones to bear fruit; if the alternate spaces are well manured, this method may be continued indefinitely. Still another plan is to cut off all runners as they start, and induce the plants to form large clumps or stools; some varieties do better in this manner than others; it is the best plan for gardens, as the plants continue in bearing three or four years. In northern localities the ground is covered with straw or leaves to prevent injury by frequent freezing and thawing, and this is left on until the fruit is picked, to keep it from being soiled. New varieties are produced from seed, from flowers carefully cross-fertilized or not, sown as soon as ripe; the seedlings come up in four or six weeks, and if protected during the winter and transplanted the next spring, they will bear fruit the following year.