Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Strawberry's Conspicuous Doppelganger : "Snake Berries"

Potentilla indica or "Snake Berries", a colloquial term from my childhood
When I was a kid, we would spend hours upon hours during the summer months and after school when permissible; playing, running, bike riding , climbing trees and exploring the world around us.  We always had plenty to eat without even going inside, thanks to the many fruit trees, bushes, vines and gardens, that were a part of all of our family's properties. 
 We always knew where to find the best peaches, apples, grapes, cherries, blackberries, currants, wild cherries, huckleberries, wild blueberries, pears, figs, persimmons and also strawberries, even the delicious honey suckles, that provided its tiny portion of goodness, coating the little stem that we pulled from the  middle.   Admittedly, I never liked the persimmon as a kid, it gave me 'lock jaw', as we called it, probably because I didn't try it in its proper ripened stage.  We knew our way around the gardens, so that gave us access to the juicy and plentiful tomatoes and cucumbers, we would eat straight from the vine, but of course, someone had to run inside and get some salt.   We even knew where to find fresh water in the springs down behind and around our houses, in the vast, wooded lands.  

The strawberries we ate usually came from farms and patches nearby, but not in our community.  We did however, have a surplus of the strawberry looking berries above.  Our parents and older siblings told us not to eat these because they were  "snake berries".  Whether they were for snakes or not is up for debate I guess, but they did always seem to have these little spit or foam like matter on them, which for us, was a good enough reason to leave them be.  

Only as of late, as in last week, did I actually take the time to do some self educating and see what I could find out about these strawberry impostors.  Our back yard has a plethora of them growing near its edges and along the ground in places throughout.  The berries look beautiful and unique, with the seeds literally on the outside of each 'berry', like a tiny red porcupine, its tiny quills, sticking out.  The berries aren't tasty to the palate either.  They are bitter and dry, as per accounts in my readings.  Unlike a 'true' strawberry, which has white flowers and sometimes pinkish, 'snake berry' flowers are yellow.  They also have seeds that protrude outward of its fruit, as opposed to being embedded into the fruit, as with a Fragaria virginiana or genuine strawberry.  

Its scientific name is Duchesnea indica from the Genus Potentilla indica, from the Rosaceae Family.   They were originally introduced to this country as a decorative or ornamental vine for walls and trellises, by way of India.  The vine quickly became a nuisance because of its rampant nature and soon after, became classified as a weed.  




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