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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - February 26, 2009

From: Woburn, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Why are Virginia strawberries native to Massachusetts?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Thank you for your answer regarding Virginia wild strawberries. I thought they were only native to Virginia and that Virginia fragaria duchesne is the accepted name for them. Why do strawberries of New Hampshire and Massachusetts have the term Virginia? Do they still grow there and were they introduced from Virginia? Duchesne are very flavorful but others are not? I contacted Massachusetts native society but still need to contact University of Massachusetts. Did you know there is a Fraises des bois museum in France? The site is in French but very interesting. I am buying regina fragaria vesca.

ANSWER:

That's a very good question. This article on How Plants are Named from Sterling Morton Library at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL gives you some background on where the scientific names come from, as well as trade names and cultivars. What we refer to as the "common name" is where it can get confusing. The same plant can have different common names in two neighboring towns, or clear around the world. We're betting that the scenario here is that a botanist or plant hunter, visiting and writing about plants of North America, spotted a plant that looked like a strawberry plant to him while he was visiting Virginia. So, he called it a Virginia strawberry. Then, later, he might have been in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, seen a similar plant and said, "Oh, wow, lookie there, another Virginia strawberry."  Since he probably wrote a diary or published letters about his find, that became a common name for a plant which just happens to also be native to 49 other states, Washington DC and including Virginia, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. At some point it was assigned a scientific or Latin name so that people everywhere could refer to the same plant, in this case, Fragaria virginiana (Virginia strawberry), and in our Native Plant Database the word "Duchesne" is attached to it. That may have been the name of the plant hunter, we just don't know. Plant nurseries sometimes dream up fancy names for plants they have for sale, or descriptive terms, which may even be trademarked. Sometimes the plants are hybridized and no longer are the same plant with the same Latin name as the original. But your original question had to do with Virginia wild strawberries growing in New Hampshire and Massachusetts and yes, they do, as well as Virginia and all those other states.

 

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