Thursday, July 2, 2015

What's in a Name - "Wild Strawberries" and Scientific Nomenclature - Fragaria vesca

By now you will have noticed that I refer to plants on this blog primarily by their scientific names. I will usually supply one or a number of common names as well, but I will write about the plants by their scientific names.

There is good reason for that, one of which I have an opportunity to exemplify today.

So I have posted recently about wild strawberries (once or twice), and now I want to post about wild strawberries again. But this time I'm talking about a different species entirely: Fragaria vesca (wild strawberry, wood strawberry, alpine strawberry).

These are not the only species referred to by the name "wild strawberry", either. This is a frequent issue with common names. Simply put, if I were to write about a plant using the common  name, I would end up quite imprecise. Using the species name cuts down on the confusion and debate about which species I am referring to.

Another issue is that many of the more familiar species have a wide variety of names which are used variously frequently. This leads to some confusion about plant identification and often debate about the correct name for a given species. I avoid this issue altogether simply by using the accepted scientific name for the plant in question. 

One more serious issue I have with the use of common names for plants is that a large number of species simply do not have common names at all. This is especially true with insects and small plants.

Fragaria vesca leaves
So the species I'm going to be talking about today, Fragaria vesca is native to most of the North American continent [1]. Fragaria vesca subsp. americana is extirpated in Indiana [2] and otherwise unlisted in the US. In Canada, Fragaria vesca is listed as secure in most of its range, except in the Northwest Territories where its status is undetermined, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, where it has not been assessed [3].

The fruit and leaves of Fragaria vesca are a source of food for the Portola woodrat and valley quail [4], and is available in some nurseries as a garden plant [4].

Fragaria vesca, like Fragaria virginiana, is a member of the Rosaceae (rose family) which produces an edible red berry. The fruit of Fragaria vesca, however, is differently shaped, with the seeds riding on the surface of the fruit (none of the indentation which is visible with Fragaria virginiana) and often a more pointed shape. 

Fragaria vesca - more pointed shape, seeds riding on the surface

In comparison, the seeds on Fragaria virginiana are inset in the fruit:

Fragaria virginiana - fruit with seeds inset
The fruit is also displayed on a stem which rises above the leaves in Fragaria vesca, while the fruit is generally below the leaves in Fragaria virginiana.

Fragaria vesca fruit - above the leaves
Note that the fruit in Fragaria virginiana, by comparison, is below the leaves:

Fragaria virginiana - note the fruit below the leaves
Although I do pick and eat Fragaria vesca, I don't go so much out of my way for it, because it is not so tasty as Fragaria virginiana. It's palatable enough, but where Fragaria virginiana is sweet, juicy, tart, and exceedingly flavourful, Fragaria vesca is blander. The distinctive characteristic which makes this fruit much less appealing to eat also makes it rather interesting, however: the fruit is quite dry, and for that reason it is exceptionally light. You can have a handful of them and they will not feel weighty at all in your palm. The fruit is large for its weight, likely due to its airy, somewhat foamy texture.

All told, Fragaria vesca is tasty enough, but I wouldn't go far out of my way for it. I do harvest them when they're available, though. I got a nice handful today:

Fragaria vesca - a respectable harvest for a few minutes' work

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