Fragaria vesca – John Tradescant, Thomas Johnson

The other plant, also currently in flower, is the Plymouth Strawberry,
which was found by one of the founding fathers of English horticulture,
who when not botanising in Virginia was obviously poking around Plymouth.
Let Thomas Johnson, editor of the 1633 edition of Gerard's Herbal explain:

'Mr John Tradescant hath told me that he was the first that took notice of
this strawberry, and that in a woman's garden at Plimouth, whose daughter
had gathered and set the roots in her garden instead of the common
Strawberry: but she not finding the fruit to answer her expectation,
intended to throw it away; which labour he spared her, in taking it and
bestowing it among the lovers of such varieties, in whose gardens it is
yet preserved.'

It was perfectly described a few years previously (1629) by John
Parkinson in his 'Paradisus':

'It is in leafe much like the ordinary, but differeth in that the flower, if
it have any, is greene, or rather it beareth a small head of greene
leaves, many set thicke together like unto a double ruffe, in the midst
whereof standeth the fruit, which when it is ripe, sheweth to be soft and
somewhat reddish, like unto a Strawberry, but with many small harmless
prickles on them [little 'leaflets' replacing the seeds], which may be
eaten and chewed in the mouth without any maner of offence, and is
somewhat pleasant like a Strawberry: it is no great bearer, but those it
doth beare, are set at the toppes of the stalkes pleasant to behold, and
fit for a gentlewoman to wear on her arme etc as a raritie instead of a

It is indeed a little wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca, in which all the
floral parts are transformed into little leaves; the recptacle swells
like an ordinary strawberry, goes red, but bristles with the little
'prickles' - very cute! Its official cultivar name is 'Muricata' and it
is available from several nurseries in England. I find that it doesn't
like to be crowded, but where it has sufficient room to run about it does
so, and gives no trouble.

The two John Tradescants collected things, as well as being gardeners,
and their collection of bric a brac ended up in Oxford, where it still
is, forming the nucleus of the Ashmolean Museum. One of the treasures is
Powhatan's (father of Pocahontas) mantle - a deer skin with shells
embroidered onto it, and amongst the natural history items (in the
University Museum) is the head and foot of the Tradescants' dodo, one of
the few to reach Europe before its extinction in 1681: they fed it on
stones, poor thing, so no wonder it died. Anyway, these bits are the most
extensive remains of the dodo to survive (not counting subfossil
skeletons) and were the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Dodo in 'Alice'.
But neither Powhatan's Mantle or the dodo can compare with the wonder of
having a living plant that John Tradescant the younger found nearly 400
years ago.

John Grimshaw

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