6 things I didn’t know about strawberries

Behind that red juiciness lurks hidden secrets. Strawberry. Photo by Vladimir Fishmen, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/117611265@N05/13537327374/

Behind that red juiciness lurks hidden secrets. Strawberry. Photo by Vladimir Fishmen, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/117611265@N05/13537327374/

It’s strawberry season in Ontario, and you know what that means: strawberry shortcake, muffins, trifles, and my personal favorite, spinach salad with strawberries!

Growing up it was my job to gather the strawberries from our small patch in the backyard. We never had many berries, as the squirrels got there before we did! To celebrate my largest harvest I decided to take initiative…and wash them in the kiddie pool. The one my brother and I had recently vacated. Not one of my best decisions. My mother was not impressed with the pool’s sanitary conditions, so I had to donate my beautiful strawberries to our local Feed the Birds and Squirrels Fund. Sigh.

In spite of this disappointment, my passion for eating strawberries only grew. Realizing I know very little about strawberries other than the fact that they are delicious, I decided to do a bit of research. I came up with the following list of reasons why strawberries are awesome.

1. A strawberry is not a berry

Strawberries aren't berries, but a banana is. Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbert Photography, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4853010035/

Strawberries aren’t berries, but a banana is. Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbert Photography, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4853010035/

Mind blown! In botanical terms (and I love botanical terms), berries are fleshy fruit that develop from a single ovary. Think blueberries, tomatoes, bananas, avocados, and even pumpkins. Real berries have seeds on the inside. Strawberries have seeds on the outside. Oops.

2. A strawberry is not even a fruit

Whaa? This is getting ridiculous. Of course strawberries are fruit, it says so in the food guide! Not according to botanists. They consider strawberries to be an accessory, or compound fruit. The green spots we call ‘seeds’, but botanists call ‘achenes’, are the real fruit. Each of these 100 mini-fruits must be pollinated separately.

The red stuff we like to munch on is the receptacle, the part of the flower that supports all of its sexual organs. When you think about it, fruit is just an assembly of plant lady bits. Maybe not a topic to bring up at the dinner table.

If you don’t believe me, these photos of developing strawberries might help:

Close-up of the hundreds of achenes and their leftover pistils. Each one has a seed inside. Photo by Stephen Shellard IMG_2771 CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_shellard/8816417025/

Close-up of the hundreds of achenes and their leftover pistils. Each one has a seed inside. Photo by Stephen Shellard IMG_2771 CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_shellard/8816417025/

The receptacle in this image seems to be doing it's own thing. Photo by Jessie Hirsch, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jhirsch/3626022615/

The receptacle in this image seems to be doing it’s own thing. Photo by Jessie Hirsch, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jhirsch/3626022615/

Photo by Jessie Hirsch, CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jhirsch/3626022615/

3. Attack of the clones!

Runners shooting out from the mother plant. Photo by Colleen Ellse CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/colleen_ellse/3514453376/

Runners shooting out from the mother plant. Photo by Colleen Ellse CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/colleen_ellse/3514453376/

Strawberries have strange sex lives. The flowers are hermaphroditic and pollinate themselves. However, for a beautiful, well-formed receptacle, they need bees to help out.

Strawberries don’t normally reproduce using seeds. Instead, they reproduce asexually. The mother plant sends out runners that set down roots, creating daughter ‘clones’. The clones are genetically identical to the mother plant.

Farmers who want big berries cut off the clones, leaving the mother plant more energy to produce the fruit. The fewer runners, the bigger the berries. Farmers who grow berries for processing let a few runners go, and their berries are smaller. But if they’re being mashed into jam, size doesn’t matter! About 75% of strawberry crop is processed to make frozen strawberries, jams and yogurts. Only 25% is sold fresh.

4. Have a heart!

The elusive double strawberry. Photo by Petra Chill Mimi, stawb CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/chillmimi/7879135588/

The elusive double strawberry. Photo by Petra Chill Mimi, stawb CC. https://www.flickr.com/photos/chillmimi/7879135588/

In many Western cultures, the heart-shaped strawberry symbolized love, passion and purity. For the Romans it was a symbol of Venus, Goddess of Love.

Next time you go into a Medieval church, look up, waaaay up, and you might see strawberries at the tops of the pillars. Stone masons put them there as a symbol of purity and perfection. In Shakespeare’s play Othello, Othello gives his wife Desdemonda a handkerchief embroidered with strawberries, which symbolize her purity.

According to one legend, if you share a ‘double strawberry’ (those ginormous strawberries where it looks like two have grown together) with someone, the two of you will fall in love. Aww. Nice thought, but there’s no way I’m sharing my strawberries! Not only are they expensive, but want all the health benefits all to myself.

5. Marvelous Medicine

The Ancient Romans believed strawberry fruits and leaves had many medical uses, such as a treatment for kidney stones, fevers, liver problems, throat infections, bad breath and fainting.

Maybe they weren’t far off. Today we know that strawberries contain antioxidants (like vitamin C, Folate) that prevent cancer. Eating them daily has been shown to reduce cancer cell growth. They also have omega-3 fatty acids. Fat in strawberries, who knew? They contain Vitamin K, which is important for bone health and most people don’t get enough of it. They also contain iodine, a chemical that kick-starts the thyroid, your body’s powerhouse. The acid in strawberries also whitens teeth and heals the gums. Huh, maybe the Romans were right about bad breath!

Eating 8 strawberries will give you 160% of daily your vitamin C. By weight, that’s more than oranges. No wonder they are one of the world’s most popular fruits!

6. What’s in a name?

Why strawberry? In English, they used to be called strewberries, because the low-hanging fruit appear to be ‘strewn’ along the ground. Once farmers started bringing these delicate fruit to market packed in straw, the name was changed to strawberry. But you can use strewberry if you really want to. Happy strawberry eating and picking!

References
http://www.koppert.com/pollination/fruit-crops/crops/detail/strawberry/
http://ontarioberries.com/site/berry-info/strawberries.html
http://urbanext.illinois.edu/strawberries/history.cfm
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/568585/strawberry
http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/aboutind/products/plant/strawberry.htm
http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/fresh-fruits-and-vegetables/quality-inspection/fruit-inspection-manuals/strawberries/eng/1303696857326/1303696941051
http://www.foodland.gov.on.ca/english/fruits/strawberries/index.html
http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/cultivated-berries/
http://www.chpcanada.ca/en/blog/health-benefits-strawberries

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About Amelia

I am a recent biology graduate and current journalism student exploring career opportunities in science communications.

4 responses to “6 things I didn’t know about strawberries

  1. Pingback: Nice hips! Rose hips, that is. | lab bench to park bench

  2. Pingback: Who wants to get pollinated? Delightful Daylilies! | lab bench to park bench

  3. Pingback: Farming a wild food: Saskatoon berries | lab bench to park bench

  4. Pingback: A berry by any other name would taste as sweet: Sneaky Saskatoons | lab bench to park bench

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