Dot’s Reading Room – Strawberry Fields Forever

April 16, 2024

Every time I pick up a box of strawberries in the supermarket I wonder why our modern day strawberries are so huge – and why they are available year-round.

As most Citizen readers can probably guess, I am not a scientist and certainly not a geneticist, but I found a recent article in Nature Communications fascinating, at least the parts of it I could understand. Maybe you will, too.

First off, in my opinion, strawberries today are frequently huge – almost as big as small lemons – and often white and pulpy. Sometimes they are sweet and juicy, but more often, their taste leaves a lot to be desired. The best way to use them, especially during the winter season, is to hull and slice them, and add a small sprinkling of sugar to bring out whatever sweetness they may contain. 

Ah, the small, tiny “native”  berries of summer! Those short-lived June favorites currently cost anywhere from $6 to $8 a pint at a farmer’s market. Small, tart, and bursting with juice, they are a treat to be treasured.

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The scientists who wrote the article about the evolution of the modern strawberry are affiliated with the Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis. (UC Davis is noted for its agricultural research.) They preface their article by explaining that the Green Revolution in agriculture, which we usually think as applying to rice and other grains, applies as well to strawberries. They write:

“The annual production of strawberry has increased by one million tons in the U.S. and 8.4 million tons worldwide since 1960. Here, we show that the U.S. expansion was driven by genetic gains from Green Revolution breeding and production advances that increased yields by 2,755 percent.

“Using a California population with a century-long breeding history and phenotypes of hybrids observed in coastal California environments, we estimate that breeding has increased fruit yields by 2,974-6,636 percent, counts by 1,454-3,940 percent, weights by 228- 504 percent, and firmness by 239-769 percent.”

So, fruit yields have gone up and fruit weights, too. Maybe that’s the answer to my question about size.

Readers, from here on, it’s up to you whether you want to read the full article. I noted some interesting history: strawberry plants in the gardens of Versailles were hybrids imported from the Americas. Strawberries are native to North America and indigenous peoples used them in many dishes. Early colonists shipped the plants to Europe in the 1600s.

Not to be too harsh on the modern strawberry, I acknowledge that I DO appreciate having fruit all year  long that is affordable. My only request to growers is, please – we don’t need berries as big as baseballs.

Here is a link to the abstract:

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