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Building a Better BerryBy Judy McBride
September 20, 1999
Across the United States, experimental plots are sporting the cream of the wild strawberry crop as six scientists set about creating tomorrow's berry from the original parents of today's commercial plants. Their mission: broaden the strawberry's genetic base and build a bigger, better one in the process.
Today's commercial strawberry, Fragaria x ananassa, comes from a chance hybridization between a North and a South American species some 250 years ago in a European botanical garden.
Agricultural Research Service geneticists Stan C. Hokanson in Beltsville, Md., and Chad E. Finn in Corvallis, Ore., are among the six scientists evaluating 20 to 40 of the finalists from North and South America. James F. Hancock at Michigan State University, East Lansing, heads the project.
Horticulturists had already done approximately 10 serious evaluations of wild strawberry species. Hancock's group selected the best and most representative to screen for 18 characteristics that growers and consumers prize most. This is the final cut.
Early results are promising. Last April in Hokanson's Beltsville plots, most of the species collection was in flower while the cultivars were just waking up. And last fall, one species from Alabama and another from Mississippi were disease-free while all the cultivars were covered with leaf spot, scorch and powdery mildew. Some of the elite species currently under evaluation come from ARS' National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Corvallis. Others were recently collected in native habitats--from Chile to the Rockies to Ontario, Canada.
Most processing strawberries hail from the Pacific Northwest. So Corvallis' Finn will watch for rich color, high acidity or high sugars to fulfill processors' wish list. He expects to find a strong, vigorous root system to cope with methyl bromide loss. Read more about the project in the September issue of Agricultural Research magazine on the web at: