Strawberries, with their bright red color and sweet juicy taste, are one of the most popular fruits around the world. But did you know that strawberries actually have a gender? It’s true – strawberry plants are either male or female.
The Difference Between Male and Female Strawberry Plants
Strawberries have perfect flowers, which contain both male and female reproductive parts. However, some strawberry varieties are dioecious, meaning each plant will develop flowers that are either all male or all female. So what is the difference between male and female strawberry plants?
- Male strawberry plants produce only stamens, which contain pollen.
- Female strawberry plants produce only pistils, which have ovules that can be fertilized by pollen.
Only female strawberry plants are capable of producing the ripe red strawberries that we eat. The role of the male plants is solely to provide pollen to fertilize the female plants.
The Strawberry Flower
All strawberry flowers initially contain both male and female reproductive organs. However, once the flowers open, the stamens and pistils mature at different times in a process called dichogamy. This prevents self-pollination of a single flower.
In male flowers, the stamens mature first and shed pollen before the pistils become receptive. In female flowers, the pistils mature first and are receptive to pollen before the stamens start shedding pollen.
Structure of the Strawberry Flower:
|Male Parts||Female Parts|
|Stamen – the male reproductive organ, consists of a filament and anther which produces pollen grains.||Pistil – the female reproductive organ, consists of stigma, style, and ovary which contains ovules.|
Pollination of a female strawberry flower occurs when pollen from a male flower is transferred to the pistil of a female flower by bees, wind, or other mechanisms.
Once a female strawberry flower is successfully pollinated, fertilization can occur and the ovary begins to develop into a strawberry fruit. The seeds develop from the fertilized ovules inside the ovaries.
The fleshy red part of the strawberry that we eat is enlarged receptacle tissue that grows around the actual fruits, which are the tiny yellow seed-like achenes on the surface of strawberries.
Why are separate male and female plants necessary?
Having separate male and female strawberry plants is important for a number of reasons:
- Prevents self-pollination and inbreeding – Pollen from one plant fertilizing the ovules of a different plant results in greater genetic diversity.
- Increases pollination efficiency – Having all male plants in one area and all female plants in another allows for more targeted pollination.
- Boosts fruit yields – Female plants focus energy exclusively on fruit production rather than both pollen and fruit production.
- Improves fruit quality – Pollination from different male plants can lead to fuller, more well-formed strawberries.
Common Strawberry Varieties
There are many different cultivated varieties of strawberries. Here are some of the most common commercial types:
|Chandler||Short-day||Sweet||Very firm, excellent for shipping|
|Camarosa||Short-day||Sweet||Large, aromatic berries|
|Albion||Day-neutral||Sweet||High yield, consistent quality|
|Seascape||Day-neutral||Sweet||Large, firm berries|
Short-day varieties produce flowers and fruit only when days are shorter in spring and fall. Day-neutral varieties are not dependent on day length and produce flowers and fruit throughout the growing season.
Why are some varieties dioecious while others have perfect flowers?
There are a few reasons why some strawberry varieties are dioecious (having separate male and female plants) while other varieties have perfect flowers (containing both male and female parts):
- Genetics – Some ancestral strawberry species have dioecious flowers. When these species are crossed to create hybrids, the dioecious trait can be inherited.
- Fruit production – Having only female plants maximizes resources going towards developing fruits rather than pollen. This can increase yields.
- Propagation – Cultivars with perfect flowers are easier to propagate from runners since every plant can reproduce.
- Vigor – Perfect flowered plants may have more overall vigor since resources are not diverted exclusively to male or female functions.
Breeders select for the floral traits that best suit the goals of developing a new variety, whether that prioritizes yield, vigor, ease of propagation, or other factors.
Can you change the gender of a strawberry plant?
The gender of a strawberry plant is determined genetically and cannot be changed. The genes that control development of male and female flower parts are set at the time of fertilization when male and female parent plants combine genetic material to form a seed.
Environmental factors like temperature, light, nutrients, etc. can affect the overall vigor and productivity of a strawberry plant but will not actually alter its genetically-programmed gender.
There are some old gardener’s tales about altering strawberry gender by stressing plants, overcrowding, or damaging roots. However, these unsubstantiated claims have no scientific basis. The gender of each individual strawberry plant is innate and immutable.
Tips for Growing Strawberries
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your strawberry patch:
- Plant an equal number of male and female plants for proper pollination.
- Space plants 12-15 inches apart in rows 3-4 feet apart.
- Apply 2-3 inches of fresh straw or pine straw as mulch to prevent weeds and keep berries clean.
- Water 1-2 inches per week, avoiding wetting the berries which can cause rot.
- Fertilize monthly with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer to encourage growth and fruiting.
- Remove runners to focus the plant’s energy on fruit production.
- Harvest berries every 2-3 days during peak season for maximum quality and quantity.
In conclusion, strawberries do indeed have gender. Male and female flowers form on separate strawberry plants due to the genetic makeup of certain varieties. Pollination between male and female plants is necessary for fruit production. Knowing the differences between male and female plants and providing optimal growing conditions can help maximize strawberry yields from your garden.