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The Chilean Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis): Over 1000 Years of Domestication
Abstract and Figures
The cultivated strawberry of South America, the octoploid Fragaria chiloensis L. has a long and interesting history. While the origin of the species in Chile cannot be completely determined, it is suspected to be an introduction from North America by birds. After making landfall in Chile, the species spread from the coast into the mountains developing a number of four ecotypes over a long period. At least two native people, the Mapuche, between Rio Bio-Bio and south-central Chile, and the Picunche, between Rio Itata and Rio Bio-Bio, began the domestication process. While white and red fruited forms were developed, the white form (because of fruit size) seemed to have been preferred as the red fruited types are not mentioned frequently in the literature. At the time of the Spanish invasion of Chile, F. chiloensis was widely grown in small garden plots. Over time under the Spanish rule, larger plantings first of 1–2 ha and later of many hectares were grown. As the Spanish continued their exploration and conquest of South America, they carried F. chiloensis with them up the western coast to Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. For many years these scattered plantings were the source of fresh fruit for the burgeoning populations. The cultivated F. x ananassa Duch. ex Rozier was introduced in Chile around 1830, but the F. chiloensis was still preferentially grown. In the early 1900s, a large canning industry that served hundreds of acres of F. chiloensis planting thrived. By the 1950s, F. x ananassa began to predominate and the rise of the importance of the University of California and European developed strawberries that was impacting the world also displaced much of the traditional production. An increased awareness of this vast genetic resource arose in the 1980s and 1990s. Faculty, particularly at the Universidad de Talca, have collected and characterized germplasm that represents not only tremendous diversity but captures many of the land races that have been developed. This germplasm has been utilized in small commercial plantings (0.1–0.3 ha) and in breeding programs to further develop F. chiloensis commercial cultivars. There is still a small but vibrant community of small growers in Chile (along the North-Central coast of the Pacific Ocean) and Ecuador (mainly around Ambato) producing the land races for commercial sale in local markets. It is estimated that around 30 ha of open field plantings are cultivated in Chile with yields averaging around 3–4 tons/ha.
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