Download audio (MP3)
Michael Ellis charts the exotic journey of the common strawberry.
By Michael Ellis
I am blessed to visit many parts of this planet and often when I sit down for a meal, I am thankful in a weird way for Christopher Columbus. Who? Well, it would have happened sooner or later, but when this Italian captain and adventurer "discovered" America he ushered in one of the most profound changes in the worldwide environment since that meteor impact ended the rein of the dinosaurs. This globalization resulted in various food crops streaming from one part of the world to another in dizzying rapidity.
Recently in Tanzania I had a dessert that included strawberries. Strawberries! Various species grow wild in many part of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere but the cultivated one has a fascinating history. The strawberry that grows wild in eastern North America is Fragaria virginiana. California has a wild strawberry growing along the coast called the beach strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis. This same plant also thrives in Chile but nowhere in-between. There is a bit of a mystery as to how this occurs but it does.
The French explorer, Cartier, imported the eastern variety from Quebec into France in 1534. It grew well in Brittany and was a favorite fruit of the kings. In 1712 a French spy surreptitiously collected five of the chiloensis strawberry plants at a Spanish military outpost in Chile. He brought them home where they were planted with the other introduced variety. The plants hybridized and the resulting plant produced a fruit that was large and delicious. Presto! The garden strawberry was born.
Soon this wondrous plant spread throughout the world and is grown nearly everywhere successfully including, apparently, East Africa. Yummy.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.
Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads tours throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.