Over 20 years ago a new species of strawberry was discovered in the Oregon Cascade range by Otto Jahn, a researcher with the Agricultural Research Service. Unfortunately for Jahn he did not quite know what he had and the discovery languished in anonymity for years—Jahn mistook it for its common cousin Fragaria virginiana, a well-known species of strawberry. The plant was given a home at a national plant bank in Corvallis and for decades it remained there with no one knowing exactly what they had growing underneath their noses. For 26 years it remained that way—until a lucky set of circumstances brought the new species to light.
After Jahn’s retirement, a new researcher by the name of Kim Hummer took over and it was her and fellow researchers Wambui Njuguna and Nahla Bassil whose analysis first uncovered the new species hidden right in front of them. Conducting research on DNA sequences in strawberry species produced some very unexpected results; the plant had 10 sets of chromosomes instead of the typical two to eight that normal varieties contained. Puzzled by the fact that this plant they thought to be a garden variety of wild strawberry kept returning with extra sets of chromosomes, they sent samples to the Netherlands to confirm their findings.
The new species, now labeled F. cascadensis after the location of its discovery, is smaller than the normal variety of strawberries that people are accustomed to. Unfortunately it won’t be as appealing to eat as its more popular sweet relative. “My little strawberry is not the most flavorful, more acid than sugar,” Hummer said. Whether or not the new berry is going to be found in your local grocery store, the story of its discovery is a remarkable one and intrepid hikers can attempt to find it for themselves as they trek along the Cascade Range.
by John Rosales