Strawberries are actually nuts, but may still be counted among our most popular fruits.
A strawberry develops from the flowers of a strawberry plant, or more precisely, from its flower base. This development begins in the middle of the plant’s interior, long before budding. In the vegetation cone of the strawberry plant, the first inflorescence is created from meristem cells. It later becomes the largest strawberry, the so-called A-fruit. Meristem cells are a kind of stem cells of the strawberry plant, undifferentiated cells that can become green leaves or white petals or red strawberry tissue. Similar to how a human embryonic stem cell can become skin or kidney or toenail or ear. B-fruits and C-fruits are also created in the same way. They will remain smaller than the A fruit, but we are still talking about “future fruits” here; this process also still takes place invisibly to us.
Only when the strawberry plant starts vegetation in spring, its plant parts develop, according to their previous destination. First the leaves sprout, then come the flower buds, leaf and fruit stems grow longer. The flower of the strawberry plant consists of several complicated parts. Only the flower base is important for those with a sweet tooth. The flower base is the round, yellowish to light green “cushion” in the middle of the petals, which is already slightly bulging even when flowering.
Indeed, from this flower base develops strawberry. It curves upwards more and more and changes color from light green to red. The juicy, delicious strawberry is ready. Except that it is neither a berry nor the actual fruit of the strawberry plant, because in reality it is the many tiny yellow threads on the flower base that matter. They have developed into lots of tiny little nuts. Each one of these nutlets is a strawberry fruit that the strawberry plant can use to reproduce. You can still see these strawberry fruitlets on the strawberry as well. Ws are the little yellow dots that sit in the little pits that dot the surface of a strawberry.
So what is the “red thing”? What we eat as a strawberry is a pseudo-fruit, botanically a gleaning nut, because many small nut fruits sit on top of a bulging red “gleaner”.
When people sometimes call strawberries mock berries, it’s rather confusing because strawberry plants don’t have berries involved at all, not even mock berries. You mean the “mock berry” comes from the fact that the strawberry looks like a typical berry? Don’t be fooled, bananas, cucumbers and avocados are also berries, and real ones at that.
Strawberries: Fruit or vegetable?
With which one would first have to know what a fruit is, and that is also anything but clear. In common parlance, all plant parts that people use are called fruits. The root in the case of the carrot, the thickened above-ground shoot axis in the case of the kohlrabi. In addition to fruit, fruit vegetables are also considered to be fruits. Our colloquial language has given “fruit” two meanings, so to speak.
For the botanist, on the other hand, a fruit always and only arises from a fertilized flower and vegetables from other parts of the plant. If fruit = fruit, then eggplants, avocados, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers and zucchini are fruits and rhubarb is a vegetable. But that would be a pretty clear classification again, and nobody begrudges us that.
There are, in fact, a few more definitions. In the realm of food and cooking, fruit is fruit, but fruit consists only of edible, mostly juicy and fleshy fruits and seeds of perennial plants that can be eaten raw and that have their own pleasant taste due to sweetness or acidity. Vegetables as food are annual or single-bearing plants that have a low sugar content. They are cooked or otherwise prepared before consumption, generally treated with spices to enhance the flavor.
This makes it questionable at first where the nut part of the strawberry belongs, where nuts are classified at all. Botanically, they are fruits, nut fruits, and thus fruits. Food-wise, however, they could just as easily be classified as vegetables because nuts are not very sweet and are often used in cooking. And anyway, most of the products we buy as nuts are not even nut fruits. Cashews are the seeds of cashew apples, peanuts are legumes, and coconuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios are stone seeds of a drupe.
Finally, if you are confused enough, we can venture to classify the pseudo-fruit strawberry. The term nut fruit in the “gathering nut fruit” speaks botanically for the classification as a fruit, that it is a gathering nut fruit, we can not really care. Food-wise, the strawberry, juicy, fleshy and sweet, can probably be called a fruit in any case.
Tips for strawberry gardeners
Originally, the strawberry formed its pseudo-fruits as a kind of payment for seed transporters. Many of our wild animals enjoy eating strawberries as much as you and I do. The hard-shelled little nutlets pass through their intestines intact and are excreted far away, where a new strawberry plant can now germinate.
The strawberry plant has harnessed a whole army of little helpers here. Foxes and badgers, hedgehogs and mice and dormice, blackbirds and redstarts, snails and beetles. They all love strawberries. The leftovers of the bitten fruits are then dragged by the ants into their burrow.
For the strawberry gardener, this means that while the strawberries are ripening, he needs a good defense strategy if strawberries are still to end up in his kitchen. Strategies to protect the strawberries do exist, and they are much smarter than covering them with bird netting. All you’d have to do is educate yourself.
By the way, how big the mock fruits of your strawberry plant will grow, you can predict yourself next season. After all, the number of seeds laid in the fall determines the size of the fruit, and before that the size of the petals. So, with the beginning of flowering, you can see whether you can expect a large-fruited crop or a lot of small strawberries. However, it also still depends on the variety, small-fruited varieties always have smaller flowers.
Strawberries are quite diverse
Strawberries are also exciting for gardeners in another respect, namely, there are very many different species of them:
- the Fragaria × ananassa or F. x magna is the true garden strawberry. This cultivated strawberry, which is grown as a useful plant, comes from America, although Fragaria is also native to Europe. However, the species native to our area produce only tiny fruits the size of a wild strawberry. Even though wild strawberries were cultivated in fields here in the Middle Ages, people were therefore excited by the discovery of the American scarlet strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) with larger fruits, which was imported to Europe at the beginning of the 18th century. Shortly after, the Chilean strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) was discovered and brought to us. It had even bigger fruits. In the middle of the 18th century, these two wild forms had repeatedly crossed by chance, giving rise to the garden strawberry Fragaria × ananassa. Which is not called “ananassa” for nothing. In southern Europe and Austria, this large-fruited cultivated form of the strawberry was really called “ananas” to distinguish it from the wild strawberry.
From this original form of the garden strawberry, more than one hundred varieties have now been bred. Once-bearing (from June about 4 weeks) and ever-bearing, varieties that currently dominate the trade and varieties that are now very rare to find. And very special varieties such as hanging strawberries or climbing strawberries, ground-covering strawberries or the Fragaria × vescana. This is a cross between garden strawberry Fragaria × ananassa and wild strawberry Fragaria × vesca.
- Besides the cultivated hybrids, some of the original species are still in cultivation, just waiting to be discovered by home gardeners. There are chile strawberries and musk or cinnamon strawberries. Also of interest are the apricot strawberry and yellow strawberries, Himalayan strawberries and month strawberries, as well as scarlet strawberries and Finnish cracker strawberries.
So one thing is for sure: even the most devoted strawberry gardener will never get bored with his strawberries. He can plant an incredible number of different strawberry varieties. Surely, among them are some varieties that most garden owners have never heard of.