This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Within the last few years there has been so much written about the sexes of the strawberry, that it may be thought superfluous to say any thing more upon this question. But there are certain cultivators (ourself among the number) who will not agree to any finality on this question, unless it agrees with our opinion of science and truth; and we hold that our opinion is as good as that of others, until facts are produced to prove that we are in the wrong.
Linnaeus placed the Strawberry in the 11th class of his system, Icosandria, which class is founded upon the number and position of the stamens. Stamens more than ten and on calyx, pistils numerous, surrounded by the stamens; therefore the flowers are hermaphrodite or perfect, as they contain both male and female organs.
Now if we have read carefully, no botanist, from the time Vaillant commenced arranging plants in conformity with their organs of generation, down to the present time, has asserted that the Strawberry has been placed in a false position in botany. Neither has there ever been discovered a variety in its wild or normal condition, which did not possess both stamens and pistils, and both of these perfect in the same flower. Varieties have been found growing wild near where strawberries were cultivated that were wanting in some of their organs, but such are undoubtedly seedlings from cultivated varieties, which had been distributed by birds or animals.
According to the natural arrangement of botany, the Strawberry belongs to Rosaceae or Rose family, in which are included the Apple, Plum, Peach, etc Among each and every one of these we find sterile or barren varieties, which have been produced by cultivation. Some are sterile from one cause and some from another. Some have double flowers, the stamens having changed to petals; others produce no pistils, others no stamens, all of which are in a botanical sense deformities. Suppose a would-be botanist should assert that the 'double Rose, Plum, Peach, and Apple were natural, and endeavor to form a new class, separating them from the single wild varieties; would the true botanist be willing to allow him thus to encroach upon the field of truth? Far from it; neither will he admit that the pistillate, staminate, or any other monstrosity which may be produced by cultivation of these plants, be admitted into botany as natural flowers.
When the stamens are wanting in a variety, and pistils are present, it is called pistillate, and consequently sterile or barren, unless fertilized by pollen from some perfect flowering kind. But when a variety produces flowers containing stamens only, it is, as a matter of course, perfectly sterile, and no art of man can make it produce fruit. Some varieties produce both hermaphrodite or perfect flowers, or pistillate or imperfect flowers, on the same plant, but the pistillate flowers are fertilized by the hermaphrodite, and then they both produce fruit.
In growing seedlings from pistillate sorts, we have found that not more than one in ten retained its pistillate character; and we have never been able to produce a pure staminate variety, although we have sometimes produced varieties that had stamens and pistils, both of which were undeveloped, and consequently barren.
When a variety has been produced either pistillate or hermaphrodite, it generally remains true; that is, no pistillate will change to a hermaphrodite, or vice versa. But sometimes a slight change may be produced by change of climate or cultivation, such as we often see in other plants, as the double rose becoming single or semi-double, etc.; so it is with the flowers of the Strawberry; for we have seen pure pistillate flowers on a plant that was under ordinary circumstances a hermaphrodite flower, and pistillate plants produce hermaphrodite flowers. This fact was proved by Thomas Meehan, of Philadelphia, a few years since, by fruiting the Hovey under glass without its being fertilized by any other variety.
We have never observed stamens in the Hovey, but we have in other varieties which are classed as pure pistillate varieties.
We can see no good reason why these changes should not take place, if the single Pink or Dahlia can be made double by successive generations of seedlings, and then, by a change of climate, soil, or a year or two of neglect, produce its single flowers again. Why should not the Strawberry, under like treatment, be made to change some of its characteristics?
We find nearly all of our cultivated fruits and flowers constantly producing sports and. variations, and sometimes to these variations we are indebted for some of our most valuable varieties. It is here that we can find a solution for this Strawberry question; the cultivated varieties are not in their normal condition, but they are partly a creation of our own, and, as such, very liable to change.
Some fifty years ago, it was discovered, by Kean, in England, that some of his Strawberry plants produced flowers containing only pistils, and from that-time down to the present pistillate varieties have been more or less in cultivation. Some cultivators have claimed that they were more productive than the hermaphrodite varieties. In some instances this seemed to be the fact; but to put this down as a rule would be fallacious, for we have observed that whenever pistillate varieties were wonderfully prolific, they were generally of small size, or not more than medium, while a largo majority of our very large varieties are hermaphrodite.
Admitting that pistillate varieties were more productive than hermaphrodite in years past, the advent of the Wilson, Downer, and several others, completely explodes this pistillate theory; as they are perfect flowering, and yet more prolific than any known pistillate variety.