PHOTO © Christian Bernd | Adobestock

Ever tasted a fraises des bois strawberry? If not, you are seriously missing out. These tiny fruits pack a serious flavor punch. I can’t think of another type of strawberry I like better to eat or grow. With the popularity of fruit and berries on the rise, now is a good time to consider adding a local niche crop with these flavorful and space-saving wild strawberries.

Fraises des bois, Fragaria vesca ssp. semperflorens, also known commonly as alpine strawberry, wild strawberry, diploid strawberry, or gourmet strawberry, have amazing flavor and fragrance. Their fruits are small, about one gram or so, and either red or yellow in color, depending on the cultivar. Interestingly, these tiny strawberries were the only types of strawberries we humans had until we started breeding them to create the larger fruited types.

Nowadays, however, you won’t find these tiny beauties much in cultivation or at the market. To develop their intense flavor and aroma, fruits must fully ripen on the plant, making them difficult to package and transport. This difficulty that also distinguishes them, however, makes alpine strawberries a prime candidate for niche local markets where you can retail fruits quickly and closely. They are also a sophisticated specialty selection that appeals to fancy foodies.

Extend your harvest

You’ll find two types of plants, clumping (non-runner) and runners. A big benefit of alpine strawberries is that most are everbearing (long-day plants) and some cultivars are day-neutral. This is another primary reason I choose fraises de bois over other strawberry types for my indoor production. Clumping types are typically day-neutral with ongoing bloom cycles spring through fall, but if you plant successions of plants and keep light and temperatures consistent, you can have increased and more continual production. ‘Mignonette’ and ‘Reine des Vallees’ are favorite clumping cultivars, but you’ll find similar consistency of fruit quality between all the available cultivars, which gives you flexibility in your selection.

Most runner types are June-bearing (short day plants, under natural photoperiods and temperatures in the northern hemisphere), but of course you can manipulate your photoperiods in controlled environments, combined with succession crops, to extend harvest. ‘Attila’ and ‘Rodluvan’ are both good producing runner cultivars.

You’ll find several named cultivars. most of which you’ll need to grow from seed; You may find some plugs of clumping types available. Running types can be propagated more easily vegetatively and may be offered as bareroot plants. Here are some of the most popular cultivars:

Red Fruits: ‘Alexandria’, ‘Ali Baba’, ‘Attila’, ‘Baron Solemacher’, ‘Bowlenzauber’, ‘Fragolina di Bosco’, ‘Mignonette’, ‘Quattro Stagioni’, ‘Reine des Vallees’ (you may also see this cultivar listed as ‘Regina;), ‘Red Wonder’, ‘Reugen’, ‘Rodluvan’ ,’Semperflorens’

White Fruits: ‘Ivory’, ‘White Delight’, ‘White Soul’, ‘White Solemacher’.

Yellow Fruits: ‘Golden Alpine’ ‘Pineapple Crush”, ‘Yellow Wonder’

fraisesdesbois.com/varieties/ has as great reference list of types.

Cornell also has a great list of sources for seeds and plants: blogs.cornell.edu/berrynurseries/strawberries/

Growing small

The small stature of alpine strawberry plants makes them good choices for small growers under glass or in controlled environments. Clumping types tend to grow to the 8- to 10-inch range and running types will trail. These compact plants can be grown containerized, in hanging baskets, vertically and hydroponically.

Start from seed

I typically find alpine strawberry plants to be fairly tough, although young seedlings and plants need to be cared for more gingerly. You’ll most often be growing from seed, and you should make sure to keep your stored seed cool. Home gardeners are usually told to pre-chill seed for about a week in the refrigerator prior to sowing, however you’ll be better off freezing seed for storage, or at least pre-treating seeds by freezing them for three to four weeks prior to sowing. Depending on where you buy your seed, they may already be pre-treated for you.

Growing on

Plants do not require any chilling to flower and fruit, which will initiate and continue if temperatures are between 35-85° F. Your biggest enemy when growing alpine strawberries? Heat. Hot temperatures will not only quickly reduce flowering but can also cause sudden plant crash and death.

Typical DLI requirements for strawberries fall into the 20-30 Mol/m2/d range, but you’ll probably find overall development during both the vegetative and flowering phases to be optimized when you reach the 30 Mol/m2/day level.

Market opportunities

Technicalities aside, you have a unique marketing opportunity with fraises des bois. I know plenty of professional chefs who would love to get their hands on more of these tiny but flavorful beauties. If you have a robust restaurant market in your community, this crop fits in perfectly with the gourmet foodies. Speaking of foodies, local specialty groceries or farmer’s markets are also the perfect outlets for these tiny tender delicacies. While we all know strawberries aren’t technically a berry (rather, an indehiscent multiple fruit), that really doesn’t matter to the consumer. I see plenty of fun marketing that could be created around “itty bitty berries,” “baby berries” and the like.

Personally, I know I’d love to enjoy these flavorful fruits when I dine out locally, as well as pick up fresh fruits at local markets. Especially these days when much of the fruit I buy (strawberries included) are under-ripe and flavorless. If you’re ready to step up the sophistication of your niche fruit crop offerings, fraises des bois could be a flavorful solution.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com