History of the Strawberry
Book Review

A History of the Strawberry book review given here is for the text by Dr. Stephen Wilhelm and James E. Sagen.

A History of the Strawberry from Ancient Gardens to Modern Markets, by Dr. Stephen Wilhelm and James E. Sagen, is quite possibly the most popular strawberry text ever written. The reason is simply that, more than other strawberry volumes, the authors retained the "story" in their "history". This has given the book a much better pace and flow than it's peers.

Of course, not everything in the work is equally interesting. For example, like other authors, Wilhelm and Sagen included numerous descriptions of strawberry varietal differences, descriptions which tend to become tedious rather quickly.

In this A History of the Strawberry book review, it is also noted that there are other issues with this work. Specifically, even though the book is quite thorough on some subjects (such as F. virginiana varieties from Canada versus those collected further south), there are other areas of strawberry history which are lacking in coverage.

Copyrighted in 1974, and published by the University of California, Division of Agricultural Sciences, it came only about 8 years after Dr. George M. Darrow's classic, The Strawberry: History, Breeding and Physiology was released. However, while Darrow praises his immediate predecessor in this vein of strawberry literature (namely, Dr. Fletcher) Wilhelm and Sagen do not seem to offer a similar level of appreciation for Darrow's contribution.

Similarly, there is little mention of the history of the strawberry in California after about 1945 beyond that related to Dr. Harold E. Thomas and Earl V. Goldsmith (associated with the University of California, Berkeley prior to 1945) and the Strawberry Institute of California. Certainly Thomas, Goldsmith, and the Institute should be mentioned prominently in any history of the strawberry in California. And since the book was "Dedicated to Harold E. Thomas", and "...written to honor the founders of the Institute..." (Preface and Acknowledgements, page vi), it is reasonable that they might get an extra portion of notice.

However, by the time of publication almost 30 years had past since 1945; Dr. Darrow's work 8 years earlier included quite a lot of post-1945 strawberry history; and tremendous advances over 1945's state-of-the-art had been made in strawberry breeding and culture by many entities, including both the Strawberry Institute of California and the University of California system (including Wilhelm's own work with soil fumigation). With this in mind, the review by Wilhelm and Sagen of this period seems shallow.

Despite any incompleteness of this volume, the fact remains that it is still the most recommendable of all such histories, simply because it reports very accurately upon the things that it does mention, and because it is such an interesting, easy read.


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The following is a short overview of some of the topics covered in the text:

Preface and Acknowledgements, and Contents.

Introduction: A very broad overview of the book. One very nice quote, from pages xiii-xiv:

"No other plant bears fruit earlier in the spring nor as soon after planting, nets more profits per acre in so short a time, nor thrives in as many different climatic zones of the world. Nor does any other plant produce more fruit in proportion to the size of the plant, number of leaves, or total leaf area."

Chapter 1: A survey of the earliest references to strawberries that can be found in northern European literature. Works included range in time from before 1000 A.D. (an Anglo-Saxon translation of Herbarius by Apuleius Barbarus) to the time of the botanists Linnaeus and Duchesne (mid- to late 1700's).

Chapter 2: A short survey of early Italian literary references to strawberries.

Chapter 3: Thoughts and theories concerning the "etymology" (or, "origin") of the English word "strawberry".

Chapter 4: Brief histories of the Alpine, Haarbeer, Brösling, Capiton, and Hautboy/Moschata varieties of strawberry, which were the most popular of the early strawberry varieties.

Chapter 5: A brief history of the importation of Fragaria virginiana into Europe from French Canada. Entering first into France (likely in the mid- to late 1500's), these plants were then introduced to England, Belgium, and other parts of Europe.

Chapter 6: A short description of the Fragaria virginiana specimens that were found in those English colonies of North American that would later become the United States. Special attention is paid to the so-called "Green Strawberry" variety, as the authors suggest that it was the first variety of F. virginiana to reach Europe from these colonies.

Chapter 7: Explains how scientists became aware of a strawberry cultivar from Virginia that bore scarlet-colored fruit. This led eventually to the realization that the "Green", "Scarlet", and Canadian strawberry cultivars were all varieties of F. virginiana.

Chapter 8: A short history of the Chilean strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis (mostly delaying discussion of it's cross-breeding with F. virginiana to produce F. ananassa, the modern garden strawberry). Among the things included in the chapter are the native distribution of the species; it's discovery by Europeans and importation into Europe; and how the species' "dioecious" (or, "distinct genders") nature was eventually discovered (after decades of failure by growers to produce fruit).

Chapter 9: Another brief chapter about F. chiloensis, focusing on those cultivars found along the coast of California.

Chapter 10: A few words concerning the history of the F. Chiloensis cultivars native to the Hawaiian islands.

Chapter 11: An explanation of how the modern garden strawberry, Fragaria ananassa, came to be.

Chapter 12: The importation of F. ananassa and of improved varieties of F. chiloensis and F. virginiana into North America from Europe, as well as information on the early strawberry industry in North America (approximately the mid-1700's to the mid-1800's).

Chapter 13: Additional information on the early (mid-1700's to mid-1800's) strawberry industry in North America. Strawberry breeding is the main focus, and the rise of a number of strawberry varieties is detailed. In particular, the slow acceptance by strawberry growers of the dioecious nature of strawberry plants, and the development of "perfect flowering" (hermaphroditic) varieties of strawberries (e.g. Wilson's Albany) are described.

Appendix: A rather lengthy history of the strawberry industry in California, focusing primarily on the mid-1800's to the mid-1900's. Special attention is given to how the varieties grown in California have changed over time. Certain people (e.g. Albert Etter, the Driscoll family, Ernst H. Haack, Dr. Harold E. Thomas, and Earl V. Goldsmith); institutions (e.g. the Central California Berry Growers Association, the University of California system, and the Strawberry Institute of California); and strawberry varieties (e.g. Cinderella, Malinda, Etter varieties, Banner, Shasta, and Lassen) are prominent in the narrative.

Literature Cited, References, and Index.

(Note: this strawberry book review is given simply to introduce strawberry lovers to great writing about strawberries. Please do the right thing and respect all copyrights. Thank you!)

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