Fascinating facts: strawberries

Not really a berry at all, strawberries are a mysterious fruit, steeped in myth and legend


Strawberry plants
  • Botanical name: Fragaria × ananassa
  • Origins: Archaeological evidence suggests that we’ve been eating the wild strawberry since the Stone Age
  • First cultivated: The modern strawberry that we know today was first cultivated in Brittany, France in the 1750s, a hybrid of Fragaria virginiana from North America and Fragaria chiloensis from Chile
  • Types: There are three main types of strawberry: summer-fruiting, perpetual or everbearing, and alpine. Summer-fruiting strawberries (such as 'Cambridge Favourite' and 'Elsanta') are the most popular type, and have a short but prolific cropping season. Everbearing strawberries (such as 'Mara des Bois') produce smaller fruit in flushes over a longer season. Alpine strawberries (such as 'Mignonette') are low-maintenance, tolerant of shade and produce small crops of tiny, sweet fruit
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Preferred location and conditions: Strawberries are versatile and can grow in the ground, in containers or in hanging baskets, all they need is sun, shelter and fertile, well-drained soil
  • Good for containers: Yes
  • Planting and growing: Plant in early spring or early autumn. Prepare the soil beforehand by forking in well-rotted organic matter. If planting directly into the soil, plant 45 cm apart with 75 cm between rows. If growing in containers or hanging baskets, ensure the plants are kept well-fed and watered, particularly on hot, sunny days. How to grow strawberries.
  • Harvest time: June to September
  • Possible problems: Watch out for grey mould, which can potentially kill the plants, so ensure they’re well-spaced, and remove and destroy any infected parts. Slugs and snails can be kept at bay with beer traps, copper tape or by picking off the pests each evening

Did you know?

Foraged by our Stone Age ancestors, revered by the ancient Romans, and widely cultivated across the modern world, our appetite for the humble strawberry remains unabated.
Plump, sweet and juicy, strawberries are a quintessential fruit of the British summer, particularly when topped with cream, a classic combination attributed to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who supposedly served strawberries and cream at a banquet he hosted for King Henry VIII in 1509.
A cognate Old English name for the fruit was “earth-berry”, but this later became “straw-berry”, the word “straw” meaning “that which is scattered or strewn”, perhaps a reference to the hundreds of tiny achenes that cover the fruit. A member of the rose family, the strawberry is not actually a berry at all, but an aggregate accessory fruit; the flesh is not derived from the ovaries of the plant but from the receptacle that holds them, whereas a true berry is produced from the ovary of a single flower.
The strawberry was once symbolic of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, because of its heart shape, deep red colour and purported aphrodisiac qualities. In medieval France, newlyweds were served a soup made from strawberries, sour cream, borage and sugar at their wedding feast, to bless their union with sweetness, fertility and love. Legend also suggests that if a double strawberry is split in half and shared between two people, they will fall in love.
The ancient Romans ate strawberries as a medicine, believing they could cure numerous complaints from melancholy to kidney stones. Today, some regard strawberries as a 'superfood', thanks to their high vitamin and mineral content. They’re loaded with antioxidants, rich in manganese, folate and potassium, and a serving of eight strawberries delivers more vitamin C than an orange. It has been claimed that eating the fruit regularly can ease the symptoms of arthritis, boost the immune system, reverse the signs of ageing, safeguard eye health, help prevent heart disease and diabetes, and even fight cancer.
Once only available during the summer months, British strawberries are now available for a much longer season thanks to milder weather and advanced growing techniques. Twenty-five years ago, the commercial strawberry season was six weeks long, these days it can last up to nine months, with British strawberries hitting supermarket shelves as early as February.
But why buy strawberries when they’re so easy to grow at home, and there are so many delicious varieties to choose from? Even if you have limited outside space, a few plants in a hanging basket can yield a generous crop of these sweet and nutrient-rich fruit, which can help keep you in tip-top health for the summer.

Content provided by Mr Fothergill's

See also

How to grow strawberries

and snails

Grey mould

Gardeners' calendar

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.