Monday, 30 June 2014

Fun with strawberry phyllody

My little boy Nanuq grew some strawberries.  At first they were normal strawberries, then they changed.  Just like Nanuq these strawberries are a little odd, kind of complicated, and more than a little bit crazy.   I think that they (both Nanuq and the strawberries) are a bit cute.

I like the look of these strawberries, they are all covered in tiny little bracts instead of tiny flowers and fruits (the part people refer to as seeds).  This condition is known as "phyllody".  I hope that they keep doing this.  We have taken the following pictures.

I am certainly no expert in strawberries so asked a few people who breed them.  I have tried to find out what has caused this and if it is a bad thing, there seem to be three different possibilities that have not been completely ruled out at this stage.

First is "green petal disease".  This is caused by a mycoplasma like organism (often confused with a virus) which is spread by leaf hoppers.  It is a disease which can infect clover.  It can cause phyllody to be expressed in the flowers/fruit.  If this is the cause then the plants should be removed and burned as they will not recover and may infect other plants.  I certainly don't want to infect other plants as I like to eat regular strawberries.  I doubt green petal disease is the cause as the petals are white and it is not showing some of the other symptoms.

The second is a genetic weakness.  This is often seen in varieties such as "malwina" or in some varieties when the runners have been cold stored.  From what I have read they sometimes recover, sometimes don't.  There is a variety of strawberry called the "plymouth strawberry" which showed this trait many years ago and has never recovered.  It only reproduces via runners as it can produce no seeds as it forms no true flowers.  There is a chance that this is part of the cause even though I don't believe that phyllody has been observed in this particular variety before.

The third possibility is the weather.  The plants grew through the hottest and longest summer I have ever experienced, somehow missed out on Autumn, and are now in a weird winter with mostly warm/hot days and cool/cold nights.  If this is the case the plants should recover and produce normal strawberries.

My best guess is a combination of the last two, weird weather combined with a genetic weakness.  If this is the case then we may see some normal strawberries soon or it may keep doing this. I kind of hope they continue to make these crazy strawberries but do not infect any other strawberry plants.  If this is the case then I will try to distribute the plants to interested people.

I do sell some heirloom and perennial vegetables as well as herbs on my for sale page, at this stage I do not sell strawberries but may do so in the future.

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