Back to all articles

The History of Strawberries

Roman poets referenced strawberries as early as 1 A.D., but at the time they were being used for ornamentation, not consumption. Wild strawberries have been eaten by people all over the world since ancient times, but not in large quantities because earlier varieties were small, tough, and relatively tasteless. By the 1300s, strawberries were being cultivated in Europe; this process began when the French transplanted the Fragaria vesca variety from the wilderness to the garden. By the end of the 1500s, Fragaria moschata was being cultivated in Europe and in the 1600s, the Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) from North America was introduced to Europe, although it was not appreciated until later. A French spy brought the Chilean strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) to France in 1714 (some sources cite 1712). It was notably larger than other species and the French accidentally crossed the Virginian and Chilean varieties soon after, giving rise to Fragaria x ananassa and later, other hybrids. Interestingly, all modern strawberry varieties are descended from this initial crossing. The English then continued the cultivation work. Strawberry cultivation also took place in America; the first planned cross resulted in the ‘Hovey’ strawberry, which was developed by a Cambridge, MA nurseryman named Charles Hovey in 1834. Other varieties followed, such as the ‘Wilson,’ (which was named for its originator, James Wilson, who selected it from a cross of ‘Hovey’ mixed with other varieties in 1851). The ’Wilson’ turned the strawberry into a major crop and the strawberry industry expanded rapidly in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1909, the ‘Howard 17’ variety was introduced by E.C. Howard of Belchertown, MA; this variety remained important for commercial use for decades afterwards, in part due to its resistance to various diseases. Before 1920, most strawberry breeding was done by growers, but ever since, most new varieties have been created by breeders working at federal or state-sponsored experiment stations. Today, there are many different varieties of strawberries in existence, but interestingly, most supermarket strawberries tend to be larger yet blander in flavor than the heritage varieties available from farmer’s markets or home gardens.

Share this article

card showing the history of rocking chairs

Your go-to guide for weird history facts

Subscribe to the FREE daily email that makes learning about history fun.