20 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 41

Wild about strawberries

From Lady Emma Tennant

Sir: As a botanically-minded Spectator read- er, I can assure Joan Collins (Diary, 13 November) that the strawberry is indeed a fruit, or, in botanical parlance, 'an enlarged receptacle on the surface of which the ach- enes or seeds are embedded'. Miss Collins might be interested to know that the cultivated strawberry is a relative newcomer to our tables. It is not descended from the European wild strawberry, Fro- garia vesca, but from a cross between two New World species.

Fragaria virginiana was introduced to Europe from the eastern seaboard of north America in the early 17th century. A hun- dred years later Fragaria chiloensfe, first seen by Europeans in Chile although it grows wild in other countries on the Pacific coast, was introduced and crossed with Fra- garia vitginiana. The resulting hybrids were the forebears of the modern strawberry. Royal Sovereign, bred by Thomas Laxton in 1892, is still unsurpassed for flavour. Emma Tennant

Shaws, Newcastleton, Roxburghshire