G.M. Darrow, The Strawberry: History, Breeding and Physiology
AS THE PRECEDING CHAPTER INDICATED, modern strawberry varieties have descended from the crossing of F. virginiana with F. chiloensis. The transition from these native species to the modern varieties now available is a long process, involving the hybridization of the two species, then hybridization of their descendants, and finally some back-crossing to the original parents and reselection. There has been almost no ingression of F. ovalis characters and that quite recently. Robinson in the United States is the outstanding example, being 1/4 ovalis. This chapter describes the important early varieties of the Americas, some of which were closely related to the native species, from which all of them descend. These varieties composed the foundation of commercial strawberry production in the Americas in the nineteenth century, and many also appear in the ancestry of the strawberry varieties of today.
In the United States commercial strawberry production began about 1800. Its beginnings were small and its progress slow. Only selections of the native F. virginiana were raised commercially; most fruit came from plants growing wild in meadows and pastures. This continued to be the case until 1840, and then the change was only minor. Hovey was grown along with the native selections, its acreage equaling perhaps one tenth of that set to the native sorts. In 1858, however, came a real change and a great advance. In that year, the native Virginian varieties began to disappear, and their place was taken by Wilson, a fully hardy, large-fruited strawberry, precursor of the modern ones. This innovation expanded the industry from 1,400 acres to more than 100,000, grown not just near the large northern cities, but as far away as Oregon, Louisiana, and Florida. Since then the history of strawberry varieties is comprised of an endless series of substitutions of new and better varieties for old ones, which then disappear, or survive only as the parents of more sophisticated plants which take their place. The major varieties that supplanted the Wilson were Crescent, Sharpless, Aroma, Dunlap, Marshall, Klondike, and Missionary, and these in turn have been supplanted largely by Blakemore, Tennessee Beauty, Klonmore, Headliner, Albritton, and Florida Ninety in the South; Howard 17 (Premier) Catskill, Sparkle, Robinson, Pocahontas, Jerseybelle, Dixieland, Earlidawn, Midland, and Armore in the North; and Northwest, Shasta, and Lassen on the Pacific Coast. Hundreds of other varieties have been grown.
A list of early varieties of the Americas properly includes (1) the Chilean, the original variety of chiloensis, which was being cultivated in Chile in 1714 when Frasier took plants of it to France; (2) Ambato which has been raised near Ambato, Ecuador, probably for about 400 years; (3) Methven Scarlet, one parent of the Hovey; (4) Hovey, notable both as the first American strawberry resulting from planned crossing, and as an ancestor of nearly all of our present varieties; (5) Ross Phoenix, the male parent of the Wilson; (6) Wilson, which was the first modern strawberry and which alone changed the strawberry from a minor to a major crop; (7) Large Early Scarlet, or New Jersey Scarlet, two early-ripening named varieties of the native Virginian strawberry; (8) Neunan, a probable seedling of Wilson adapted to southern states; (9) Crescent, a seedling probably of Hovey crossed with New Jersey Scarlet, through which most American varieties trace their ancestry back to Hovey and to the Virginian; (10) Charles Downing, from Kentucky and (11) Sharpless grown with Crescent to pollinate it and important in Europe (Poland) even today.
The earlier varieties, Such as Hovey and Wilson, which at first were grown along with the native Virginian sorts and later replaced them, have a peculiar and interesting derivation. Although the strawberry is a gift of the Americas, most of its early development, as Miss Lee describes, took place in Europe. The ultimate sources, the Chilean and Virginian, were native to the Americas, yet the parents of the first important American varieties were originated in Europe. So it is that all early varieties in America have European varieties in their parentage. Carrying it one step further back, these European varieties derive from varieties imported from the Americas. Thus, the white Chilean and the Scarlet, popular in England in the late 1700's and early 1800's, were only slightly removed from F. chiloensis and F. virginiana. These two varieties fostered Keens Imperial, the parent of the notable Keens Seedling. Keens Seedling, in turn, was the progenitor of Hovey and Ross Phoenix, two important early varieties of America, which in their turn are presumed to be the parents of Wilson, the first modern strawberry of America. The sources of many early varieties in America are similar to those in this example, involving English varieties either indirectly or directly, and often native varieties of the Virginian, the English varieties descending from earlier ones from the Americas. The process is one of mixing characters and of enlarging gene pools, which so often leads to an increase in vigor and intrinsic worth.
The early history of the Chilean strawberry has been described in Chapter 4. The Chilean was probably not greatly different from the Ambato, still raised extensively in Ecuador, and the Red Chilean, still raised in the region of Santiago, Chile, today. Both these varieties are perfect-flowered, however, while the original Chilean as taken to France in 1714 was pistillate. The original Chilean, it must be remembered, was extremely susceptible to winter cold and to summer heat, and so unproductive in climates like that of the United States that it probably would not have produced a quart of berries per acre in most parts of the country. These non-hardy genes, which were introduced by the Chilean into most descendant varieties still trouble us and are still in the process of being bred out.
Ambato (Fig. 9-1) was probably brought to Ecuador soon after 1557, when it was carried from Chile to Peru. Like the original Chilean, it is extremely tender to winter cold and unproductive in the United States. Popenoe (1921) examined the several hundred acres of Ambato in 1920 and sent plants to the United States, where it was used to some extent in breeding and probably entered into the ancestry of Siletz. It may have entered also into the parentage of Etter's varieties. Ambato is notable for several things: The amount of pollen in its flowers, the uniformity of its fruit, the firmness of its berries, and its adaptation to the very short photoperiods and to the constant low growing temperatures of the highlands of Ecuador. Fig. 9-1 shows clearly the uniform shape of Ambato, which is due to thorough pollination of all the pistils made possible by the enormous amount of pollen in its anthers. The fruits usually are not as bright as those shown, and are rarely colored over the whole surface. As an indication of their firmness, the berries, with little or no injury, are often carried in boxes on mule back to the city of Ambato, for which the variety is named, and thence by truck to Quito and other cities. The plants grow not far from the Equator on mountain tops in volcanic soil and form flower buds after months at temperatures of 35° to 60° F., and photoperiods of about twelve and one-half hours. Normally they do not form flower buds in the latitude of Washington, D. C.
Methven Scarlet is probably the seed parent of Hovey. It was a seedling of the Hudson Bay, a pistillate, raised by Thomas Bishop at Perthshire, England, in 1815, so it had to be a hybrid. It was soon introduced into America where it was widely cultivated between 1820 and 1835. It was described by Fletcher as "large, round conic to coxcombed, dull scarlet; flesh light red, soft, poor; runners numerous . . . rather insipid, but large and showy" (1916). This description does not fit a pure Virginian, but rather some hybrid from the cross of Hudson Bay with some "pine," not so hardy as most Virginians, that Bishop happened to be growing at that time. A hardy pure Virginian in breeding should have produced a hardier variety than Hovey, especially since Hudson Bay itself was very hardy. Next to Large Early Scarlet, Methven Scarlet was the most widely cultivated of early grown sorts in North America and it did not pass out of cultivation until about 1870.
Hovey, originated in 1834 by C.M. Hovey (see Chapter 12), was probably a cross of Methven Scarlet x Keens Seedling. Though much hardier and more productive than Ambato or the Chilean, from which it was three or four generations removed, it was still not generally hardy. Hovey, however, was better adapted to the conditions around Boston than any European large-fruited variety. It was the first American large-fruited variety to be grown commercially, as well as the first variety of any fruit to be originated in America as the result of planned crossing. Hovey was notable for (1) its large size, (2) relative hardiness as compared with European varieties of that period, (3) productiveness tinder high culture, and (4) its fine flavor.
Ross Phoenix, perfect-flowered, was originated in 1837 by Alexander Ross, Hudson, New York, and is probably the male parent of the Wilson. It is reported to be a seedling of Keens Seedling, probably with a cultivated or a wild Virginian as its pollen parent. Being selected at Hudson, N. Y., it was probably one of the hardier seedlings of such a cross. Fletcher (1916) described it as "medium" (in size), "round-conic to coxcombed, very dark crimson, firm, very good." Ross Phoenix was "cultivated considerably 1845-55" and was grown by James Wilson near Albany. Much of its importance derives from its parentage of the Wilson.
Wilson, a perfect-flowered variety, was undoubtedly the first modern American strawberry and does not differ materially from those we now grow. The Wilson was originated in 1851 when James Wilson (see Chap. 11) sowed seed of Hovey, Black Prince, and Ross Phoenix and selected it from the resulting seedlings. As both Hovey and Black Prince were pistillate and Ross Phoenix was perfect-flowered, the latter had to be the pollen parent, unless other perfect-flowered varieties were in Wilson's garden. Both Hovey and Black Prince were dark red, and the flesh of Black Prince was very dark, so either variety could have been the mother parent of Wilson. Wilson was more acid than any of the three possible parents grown by James Wilson.
Wilson had many notable qualities: (1) it was extremely productive, far beyond other varieties of the day; the berries were (2) large and (3) much firmer than those of other kinds; (4) their color was an attractive deep red; (5) it was excellent as a preserving and canning variety; (6) its plant was hardier than that of any other large-fruited variety, so that it was dependably productive and growers could afford to raise it; (7) it was widely adapted and could be grown successfully farther south than other kinds; and (8) it could be grown on nearly any soil. As it was perfect-flowered, it could be grown by itself. Wilson changed the strawberry into a major crop grown from Florida and Louisiana to New York and Wisconsin, and on the Pacific Coast. Its one limiting character was the acidity of its fruit, which decreased as the berries matured (Plate 9-la and b).
New Jersey Scarlet and Large Early Scarlet. The variety grown by Wm. Parmalee in Connecticut when he found Crescent was New Jersey Scarlet, originated by E.W. Durand (see Chapter 12) at Irvington, New Jersey, and introduced in 1868. Fletcher (1916) considered it practically the same as Old Scarlet, which about 1624, over 200 years earlier, was introduced into Europe where it was assumed to be the same as Little Scarlet, a variety still grown slightly in Europe for preserves. New Jersey Scarlet was described by Fletcher as having medium-sized, conic, necked, light scarlet berries with whitish medium-firm flesh with a good mild sub-acid flavor and it was early in season. Little Scarlet, like Old Scarlet, has similar but roundish berries (Fig. 9-2). Large Early Scarlet was also similar, but had earlier and larger fruit. It also was highly prized for preserves and its plants were notably hardy.
New Jersey Scarlet and some other Scarlet varieties may have been pure Virginian in ancestry, or may have been first or second generation backcrosses to the Virginian. Knight showed that this could be so when he described similar Scarlet seedlings from crosses that he made in 1918 (see p. 76). In the development of the modern strawberry to what it is now, a substantial infusion of hardiness was necessary; and it was this that the Scarlet varieties provided, for these Virginian varieties were adapted to a rigorous climate.
Neunan, introduced about 1868 by a Mr. Neuman of Charleston, South Carolina, was probably a seedling of Wilson. It became the standard sort in much of the Southeast from Virginia south to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Neunan was just enough better, not so dark, and somewhat firmer than Wilson to be grown by many instead of the latter.
Charles Downing was originated in 1860 by J.S. Downer, of Kentucky, from seed of Downer's Prolific. It was introduced in 1867 as a milder, lighter red, midseason variety, not so firm as the Wilson but fine for home use.
Crescent (Fig. 9-3) was found as a chance seedling by William Parmalee of New Haven, Conn., in 1873 and was introduced in 1876 by H.H. Smith of West Haven, Conn. Mr. Smith wrote in a letter to A.B. Howard that Parmalee grew only Hovey and New Jersey Scarlet and that no other varieties were raised near the Parmalee place, so that its parents had to be Hovey x New Jersey Scarlet, a Virginian that had just recently been introduced.
The Crescent had many of the qualities that made Wilson so popular -- its high productiveness, its hardiness which made it dependably productive, and its adaptability to a wide range of conditions. It also was acid. Since it was pistillate, another variety had to be grown with it for pollination. Its fruits were scarlet, rather than the deep red of Wilson; they were not quite so large and they were softer. The plant was subject to leaf spot; however, it was earlier and made runner plants more freely than Wilson, and it was even more productive. As a pistillate, all its seedlings had to be hybrids; its vigor of growth, its hardiness and productivity, and probably its scarlet color, led to its use as a parent in breeding. These characters are now generally present in today's varieties.
Sharpless was raised in 1872 by J.K.S. Sharpless of Catawissa, Pennsylvania, from mixed seed of Jucunda, Charles Downing, Wilson, and Col. Cheney, and was introduced in 1877. It was thought to have Charles Downing as one parent. Its other parent could have been either the Col. Cheney or Jucunda, but not the much more acid and darker Wilson. The berry was relatively large, often hollow, irregular in shape, often with green tips, and bright scarlet in color. Its seeds were somewhat raised. It was mild and good in flavor, and late midseason in ripening. It was a good pollen producer and was grown extensively as a pollinator for Crescent. Crescent was much more productive, but Sharpless was much larger and better flavored. It required fertile soils and failed on poor ones. It was well adapted to hill culture, and was widely grown in Europe until after 1900 and is still important in Poland.
The success of C.M. Hovey, and of James Wilson twenty years later, in obtaining far better varieties, stimulated many to grow seedlings and in some cases to make crosses. By 1880 many new varieties began to appear. Wilson continued to dominate the market and was planted on about half the acreage almost up to 1900. Crescent and Sharpless were grown on about 30 percent of the acreage and other varieties on the remaining 20 percent. The other varieties were numerous. In southern states Hoffman, a seedling probably of Neunan, found by Mr. Hoffman of Charleston, South Carolina, was introduced in 1887. It was earlier, firm and acid, and better colored than Neunan, and replaced it in the South. Michel, Excelsior, Cloud, and Lady Thompson were other varieties better adapted to the South, with its shorter daily light periods, for they had less chilling requirement than northern sorts. In the North, besides Crescent, Warfield (introduced 1885), Bubach (introduced 1886), and Haverland (introduced 1887) were three other widely grown pistillate varieties and were pollinated with Wilson, Sharpless, Gandy (introduced 1888), Aroma (introduced 1892) and others.
Thus, in 1800 there were only a few garden plantings containing the Chilean, the tiny European wood strawberry, vesca, and selections of Virginian, either American or European, and these were in the gardens near the cities along the Atlantic seaboard. Most strawberries were gathered from the wild meadow and pasture areas. By 1820 there were very few commercial plantings of selections of the wild Virginian (Fig. 9-4). Though Hovey was bred and introduced in the 1830's it caused no real increase in the acreage except perhaps around Boston. Even when Wilson was introduced in 1854, the total acreage of the United States was estimated by Fletcher (1917) at only about 1,400 and the major sources of supply were the native wild ones. Owing to the superior hardiness, shipping quality and productiveness of Wilson, the acreage in the United States expanded quickly so that there may have been 10,000 acres in 1860, 50,000 by 1870, and 100,000 acres by 1880 (Fig. 9-6). Other berries were raised on a small percent of the total acreage, but on the whole Wilson dominated the markets until 1900 (Fig. 9-7). Figure 9-8 shows where the older varieties originated.
1. See Appendix II, for Chronology of Strawberry varieties in the United States.