I AM DELIGHTED to write by way of introduction, the first chapter of this book about strawberries because I have been curious about and have loved the strawberry plant ever since I ordered my first plants as a high school boy more than sixty years ago. Moreover, it has been a rare privilege to know intimately for many years one of the great strawberry experts of the world, Dr. George M. Darrow.
The problem of tracing the history and ancestry of strawberries is very difficult because there are so many kinds which are so similar in appearance and so distant in ancestry. Evolution from the ancestor of the wild strawberry of Europe to the wild strawberry of Eastern America, probably required hundreds of thousands of years; derivation of the wild strawberry of Chile may have required even longer.
The ordinary wild wood strawberry of Europe, the fraise des bois or vesca, is rarely tasted today except by epicures. And yet in the 1400's, as Mary Wallace Bruggmann briefly elaborates, this wild European wood strawberry was highly esteemed in religious art. The first person really to understand the relationship of this wild European strawberry to the wild American strawberries was Antoine Duchesne, a young French boy of the Court of Louis XV. His observations are fully described for the first time in English in a fascinating way by Vivian Lee in this book. He had a ringside seat when the modern large-fruited strawberry, based solely or almost solely on blood from North and South America, was brought together for the first time in Europe in the mid-1700's. Without this European work, which combined North and South American strawberries, our modem strawberry would not exist.
The mild maritime climate of Chile produced a non-hardy type of plant and the severer North American climate resulted in a plant more adapted to heat, drought, and cold. The possible permutations and combinations in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth generations from the cross were infinite. For nearly a century this hit-and-miss work was done in Europe, and the first large-fruited, good tasting, but not very hardy, strawberries were grown chiefly in Northwest France, Holland and England. Although there is no historic record of the event, ship captains undoubtedly brought this new, large-fruited strawberry, which was commonly called pine or Ananas, to the American colonies in the 1760's or 1770's. There other doses of the wild North American strawberry were put in to make the North American large-fruited variety somewhat more hardy and more acid than the European large-fruited strawberry.
During the past 130 years many Americans have tried by repeated crossings to get more productive, more disease-resistant, better-tasting and larger-fruited strawberries. Doctor Darrow knows more about these men than anyone else, having studied their efforts for more than fifty years. He himself has produced many new varieties. He has observed year after year that no other plant is more sensitive to minute changes of environment, especially day length and temperature.
He has been deeply impressed with the fact that the mild, cool, coastal climate of California, benefiting from irrigation, produces nearly half the strawberries of America from April to December. The original breeding in California was done by Harold Thomas and Earl Goldsmith beginning in 1929. They wanted a large, firm berry which could be picked one-fourth green and which could stand shipping to the east coast. To do the job, they relied on the recombinations resulting from crossing two Massachusetts sorts, Howard 17 and Marshall, one Ohio variety known as Nich Ohmer, and a British kind known as Royal Sovereign. George Darrow had furnished several fundamental sorts based on Howard 17 and Royal Sovereign. Various other varieties were included also but these four varieties have been the backbone of California strawberry breeding. Many thousands of seedlings have been produced and careful selections of the best have been made. The result has been an unusual commercial triumph in the big city markets of the United States. The size is big and the flavor is moderately good, although not the best. If supremacy in the market is the criterion, Harold Thomas and Earl Goldsmith and their successor, Royce Bringhurst, must be given first prize.
From late December until March, nearly all the strawberries coming on the American big city markets are Florida 90, originated in 1948 by Dr. A. N. Brooks at Plant City, Florida. Florida 90 is one-half Missionary, which was a chance seedling picked up near Norfolk, Virginia, about 1900 by Mr. Gohn. While Missionary is better adapted to the Tropics than any other large-fruited strawberry, it has never done well in California. Missionary gave Florida 90 its tropic adaptation, but Florida 90 is larger and has a better flavor. While the male parent is not known, Florida 90 behaves as if the father might have been Klonmore. Florida 90 in the northeastern city market usually is better flavored than either the California berries or Missionary.
Outside of California and Florida, large-fruited strawberry breeding in the temperate areas of the world has been based on different varieties and theories. The one variety used more than any other in the United States has been Howard 17, originated by A. B. Howard, who died in Belchertown in western Massachusetts in 1907. More than a hundred years ago Howard learned to love strawberries from some of the Perfectionists who remained at Putney, Vermont, while he was still a high school boy. To Howard belongs the credit for recognizing the sturdy vigor of a variety called Crescent. Howard used Crescent again and again because it had no pollen and therefore was easy to cross. I remember growing Crescent as a boy and discarding it for lack of flavor. Howard kept it because of its great vigor and hardiness and ease of crossing. Crescent was the backbone of the success of A. B. Howard as a strawberry breeder.
Crescent was a combination of the first American bred variety called Hovey with one of the forms of the wild strawberry of eastern United States. Parmalee, the man who found the Crescent near his home in 1873, lived near New Haven, Connecticut. Hovey was originated in 1834 by C. M. Hovey, who lived near Boston, Massachusetts. Hovey was produced by crossing the most popular British variety of the early 1800's, Keens Seedling, probably with Methven Scarlet which was rich in the wild North American blood. Hovey was a man of learning associated with intellectuals of Boston; Howard was a dirt farmer, but he nevertheless associated with idealists, writers and college professors of western Massachusetts.
Dr. George Darrow and Mr. George Slate at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station recognized the importance of Howard 17 for breeding purposes. In nearly all strawberries north of Florida, Howard 17 is found to the extent of at least one-fourth. More than any one man, George Darrow recognized the high importance of the combination of Howard 17 with Missionary.
Dr. Darrow writes about many strawberry breeders in this book but not about himself. Therefore I asked Dr. F. P. Cullinan, one of the top men in the scientific work of the U.S.D.A., who has known Dr. Darrow in a close personal way for many years, to give me facts I did not know. Dr. Darrow is a genuine Yankee from southern Vermont, raised on a dairy farm not far from where A. B. Howard of Howard 17 fame lived all his life. His Horatio Alger boyhood will not be recounted here. Suffice it to say that he graduated in 1910 from Middlebury, Vermont, specializing in Botany. Then after getting a Master's degree in 1911 from Cornell, he went to the U.S.D.A. where he worked for 46 years. In 1926 he had the good fortune to be associated with some of the very first strawberry chromosome counting work as conducted by Longley. Darrow's work on physiology of the strawberry earned him a doctorate at Johns Hopkins in 1927. For more than 45 years Dr. Darrow has lived at Glenn Dale, Maryland, almost mid-way between Washington and Baltimore. There today he not only works with his son in producing commercial "pick your own" strawberries but he also hybridizes day lilies and azaleas. He associates joyously with his plants -- he is that rare individual, a genuine plantsman. This title in my opinion is far beyond that of any Ph.D.
As a writer about strawberries, Dr. Darrow stands out as one of the leading contributors to scientific strawberry literature for 45 years. No one has written more abundantly and precisely. No one has had a wider acquaintance among the American strawberry, breeders, north, south, east and west.
Dr. Darrow was in the forefront of the fight to help strawberry nurserymen bring out virus-free plants. He cooperated with experiment stations in the United States and Scotland to bring out varieties which would withstand the disease known as red stele. He cooperated with George Slate of the New York Experiment Station at Geneva on the problem of getting better flavor by crossing the virus susceptible Suwannee with Midland both of which were noted for their flavor and both were one-half Howard 17, a variety of great vigor but rather moderate flavor, Unfortunately no one has yet found a high-yielding, firm-fleshed, large-fruited, disease-resistant sort which has the very fine aroma of Suwannee. George Slate is still working on the problem and I have been in the field with him and Dr. Darrow to see the many thousands of seedlings.
During the past thirty years, strawberry growing in the United States has more and more drifted to areas where labor costs are low, where the soil is sandy, and where irrigation is readily available. More and more, strawberries have tended to disappear as a commercial crop in the mid-western states except on a "pick your own" basis (an exception is Michigan where acreage has been maintained). The modern American back does not seem to adapt itself to strawberry picking.
For 160 years European strawberry breeding followed a different course from that in the United States. In both North America and Europe, the large-fruited strawberry was based on the same two American species combined by Europeans beginning about 1750. But from then on the Americans have put in larger doses of the wild North American strawberry, whereas the Europeans held to a higher percentage of Chilean. The reason for this was because the European climate was milder. Again and again the best European crosses were brought to the United States only to succumb to the climate. The most notable exception was the highly flavored Royal Sovereign originated by Laxton of England in 1891, and it survived only in crosses. Even as a parent, Royal Sovereign has not survived except in California and North Carolina, and was not of any importance in eastern, southern, or central United States. Nevertheless, as an ancestor, it is found to some extent in every California variety. Keens Seedling, brought to the United States about 1826, was not adapted to our climate, but as a parent of Hovey it is to be found in nearly every American variety. Black Prince, another early English variety, a seedling of Keens Imperial, originated by John Wilmot of England, is also to be found in most American sorts.
Up until 1850 the European combinations of the North American wild with the large-fruited Chilean had been more or less a failure on the big city markets of the United States because they were not hardy enough to take our climate except under high, garden culture close to the coast. Before 1858 nearly all strawberries on the American market were large-fruited (by present standards very small) selections made in Europe from the North American wild strawberry.
James Wilson, a Scottish gardener and nurseryman who lived in what is now Albany, laid the foundation for a complete change in American commercial strawberry growing when he saved seed from a patch where two pistillate and one male or bisexual sort were growing. Each of the three was one-half either Keens Imperial or Keens Seedling, the British sorts which had done so well in England and had spread over the continent. The American effort had been to cross these tender British sorts with the better North American wild. But nobody had been commercially successful until James Wilson planted open pollinated seed from his variety patch so rich in Keens blood. By great good luck he found a large-fruited, hardy, good-looking sort which won favor very rapidly on the city markets, although its flavor was mediocre. For more than 40 years the Wilson dominated the strawberry markets of the United States. It was the first real break-through on the road to a variety which would stand our climate and yet give large, good-looking fruit in abundance. Of course about 1880 or 1885 Crescent, which was also a grandchild of the British Keens Seedling with a wild North American sire, in part replaced Wilson and had the honor or furnishing 5/8 of the blood of Howard 17. Genetically speaking Hovey and Crescent are all-important, far more important than Wilson. Commercially Wilson led the way. All honor to James Wilson, the Scottish gardener who knew a good thing when he saw it.
We may say therefore that importations of the British Pine or Ananas derived from the White Chilean laid the foundation for the large-fruited strawberry in the United States. To a degree this is also true of Europe. French sorts have rarely been imported into the United States, and not a single one has ever done well here. French breeders look with disdain on American strawberry varieties even though a few of them have been used with great success in crossing in England, Holland, and Germany.
The British have recognized the need of greater hardiness in their strawberries and have used American varieties, especially recently, in their breeding work. The most widely, grown sort of French origin today, Madame Moutot, which is half Royal Sovereign, was introduced in the early 1900's. It has been very popular in the river valleys of Italy and Switzerland. It is a very large-fruited kind, but in spite of being half Royal Sovereign, has a rather poor flavor. It has never done well in the United States and none of its crosses has done well. A hundred years ago Jucunda, another British type, was widely grown in the United States in regions where the soil was rich. The European sort best adapted to American conditions in recent years has been Senga Sengana, brought out in the late 1950's by Professor von Sengbusch, the distinguished geneticist of the Max Planck Institute of Hamburg, Germany. Perhaps Senga Sengana's adaptability is due to the fact that it is one-half American by ancestry, and therefore has more hardiness. American varieties in Europe seem to lack flavor. Howard 17 has never been a success in Europe, either as a variety or as an ancestor. The climate of eastern United States is more different from that of Europe than most people realize.
The large-fruited strawberry has displaced the small-fruited, wild strawberries of eastern United States and the totally different wild strawberry of Europe. The flavor of the American wild strawberry is found represented to some extent in a few of the large-fruited varieties. Strawberry connoisseurs tell me that the unique flavor of the wild strawberry of Europe, the fraise des bois or vesca, is never found in our domestic large-fruited strawberry. It is challenging but probably not profitable to breed a large-fruited strawberry with a fraise des bois flavor.
An even greater challenge is to breed a large-fruited strawberry with the Muscat flavor. This is a second, but rarely found, wild strawberry in Europe which has a flavor quite different from the fraise des bois. The musky flavor is peculiarly appealing to a few people. It is never found on the market in the United States and rarely on the market in Europe. Scientifically, the musky strawberry was recognized as moschata by Duchesne 200 years ago. It has a rough leaf and carries its blossoms very high. Usually the blossoms of a plant are either all male or all female. The male plants have no fruit. The fruits are rather soft and do not attain their altogether unique flavor until quite ripe. The task of making a large-fruited. firm-fruited moschata is a very great challenge.
The French, because of their highly developed sense of the unique, have spent more time than anyone else on producing ever-bearing varieties of fraise des bois. Furthermore, they have worked harder than anyone else trying to introduce the moschata flavor into the large-fruited strawberry. An everbearing, non-running form of fraise des bois was first found in the wild about 300 years ago just east of Grenoble in the low Alps near the Swiss and Italian borders. These mostly have elongated, pointed fruits, and are the type grown by a limited number of epicures along the coast in northeastern United States today. They breed true from seed and are propagated by seed. But this pointed, alpine fraise des bois is not the kind usually seen in the paintings of the 1400's. Apparently the running, round-fruited type was more common in the 1400's.
It has only been since 1926 that scientists have had the techniques to know that the fraise des bois or vesca had only 14 chromosomes, whereas the Chilean, the wild North American, and the commercial large-fruited strawberry all have 56 chromosomes. Only since 1926 have we known why it was so hard to make the fraise des bois cross with the large-fruited strawberry. The moschata or musky strawberry, which has 42 chromosomes, will cross occasionally on the 56 chromosome berry, but the resulting plants are not productive. Charles Simmen of Montmorency, France, has had modest success along this line, but his varieties containing moschata blood usually have not survived very long.
Doctor Darrow is probably right in concluding that it is more practical to breed more flavor by selection into the ordinary 56-chromosome commercial strawberry than to try to introduce flavors from either of the two exotic wild European sorts with their 14 and 42 chromosomes respectively.
For myself I have long held the romantic idea that it would be good to go back to the source, to the original wild European 14-chromosome berry. How to do that and yet maintain size and firmness is the problem.
To me personally, the moschata has had an interest for thirty years because President F. D. Roosevelt first called my attention to it. He was one of the few people fascinated by the musky flavor, when he was a small boy traveling with his tutor in Germany. Following up on Roosevelt's suggestion with Doctor Darrow, I found that there was this other wild European strawberry, less well known than the famous fraise des bois.
I am sure that the very practical and very successful strawberry growers of California will never fool with either of the two wild European strawberries. Nor will the very successful strawberry growers of Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, or Arkansas. They will follow the doctrine of "First things first." One look at these wild strawberries from Europe will convince them that there is nothing there for them. These small-fruited European sorts are hundreds of thousands of years removed from their large-fruited kinds so carefully evolved from the North and South American species and varieties by so many devoted breeders since 1750.
Nevertheless, a few men will try to go back to the early beginnings on the assumption that not everything good in the strawberry world originated in Chile and North America. Europe may have something to contribute. The religious artists of the 1400's loved the wild European strawberry. Perhaps it will yet contribute something more tangible than religious art.
The immediate future in the United States undoubtedly belongs to the strawberries originated by Doctor Darrow and his close friends and many associates in many states. On the continent of Europe, the future seems to belong increasingly to the varieties originated by Professor von Sengbusch in Germany. In the British Isles, varieties originated by the Cambridge Experiment Station, and in Scotland varieties originated by Robert Reid of Auchincruise, seem to dominate the picture.
Probably no domestic plant is more complex biologically, more sensitive in its adaptability than the strawberry. This means that a really good and comprehensive book is almost impossible. Fortunately, the history of the domestic berry begins only in 1760, and therefore we know more about this plant's history than we do about most other organisms. Doctor Darrow is deserving of great credit for getting the cooperation of so many strawberry experts in helping him write a story which is both scientific and romantic. In my opinion, the history of the strawberry has just begun. However, I doubt that the strawberry of the future will ever attain the size of the berries seen by Hieronymous Bosch's tortured imagination in the early 1500's.