Being the new owner of a house with a garden (like I was saying two weeks ago), I started to look at what I could grow in that garden. It’s a bit late for this year, but I want to be ready for the spring. Anyway, that led me to read some articles and I was “shocked” (it’s clearly too strong a word) to learn that someone created the strawberry.
Who Invented the Strawberry?
First of all, when I’m talking about the strawberry, I’m talking about the one we eat nowadays. Turns out, wild strawberries were used for decorative purposes since at least Ancient Rome.
The wild strawberry (aka Fragaria) is a genus of flowering plants in the rose family, Rosaceae. Also, there are more than 20 different Fragaria species worldwide.
For example, the Fragaria Vesca (Alpine Strawberry) was used as a medicinal herb in France, in the 13th century—it was used as an ingredient for a digestive or skin tonic, and the fruit juice was used for discolored teeth.
France played a big part in the history of the strawberry. First, the Fragaria Vesca found its way to the garden. Then it was followed almost two centuries later the Fragaria moschata (musky strawberry). During the 17th century, Fragaria virginiana (Virginia strawberry)—from North America—was introduced in Europe too. The one Fragaria that changed everything though was the Fragaria chiloensis, aka the Chilean strawberry.
When a male strawberry met a female strawberry…
What really differentiates the Chilean strawberry from the others is its fruits, large and particularly good. Introduced in France in 1714 by a French Spy, Amédée-François Frézier, returning from South America, the Fragaria chiloensis was not easy to grow in Europe, unlike the Virginia strawberry.
In fact, at first, the Chilean strawberry didn’t produce any fruit when cultivated in Europe. That changed almost by accident. French gardeners planted Fragaria moschata and Fragaria virginiana in between rows of Fragaria chiloensis. As a result, the Chilean strawberry started to grow large fruits. This led French botanist Antoine Nicolas Duchesne to study the breeding of strawberries. His work completely changed the science of plant breeding and revealed a lot about the sexual reproduction of the strawberry.
Duchesne was the one who really understands that male Fragaria moschata or Fragaria virginiana plants were the only variety of Fragaria that could be used to pollinate Fragaria chiloensis.
The result of this is the Fragaria × ananassa, the one we now simply called Strawberry!
The Man Called Strawberry
For the French-speaking crowd, yes, this is funny that the man who introduced the Chilean strawberry in France was called Frézier, a homophone of “Fraisier,” the french word used for strawberry.
As the story goes, the family name of Amédée François Frézier comes from one of his ancestors, Julius de Berry, who had served wild strawberries to King Charles III at the end of a banquet in Antwerp in 916.
The king thanked him by ennobling him and giving him the name of Fraise, which became Frazer when the family emigrated to England and then Frézier, when they returned to Savoie.