False Strawberry Fields Forever

21 May

Riding home from work a little before sunset, and enjoying the recently-turned warm-on-a-regular-basis weather, I find myself passing through taro gardens, recently harvested and ready-to-be-harvested tea fields, and patches of roadside wood and devastation.

Tea harvester at sunset.

Before… woods on the roadside.

…and after. (Actually, it is immediately adjacent to the previous photo, but it should give you an idea of Japan’s appetite for construction)

On the opposite side of the minor road I’m using I spot a single red, err, spot.  Hoping that this is going to be worth my time, I slam on my brakes, spin around, and get ready to photograph.

I locate the red fruit.  It turns out to be a raspberry.  Oh, well.

A raspberry – not what I was looking for.

I was hoping it was something else.  Which I find about a week later, less than a kilometre away…

I know the Japanese name, just not the English name.

 

It has trefoil leaves like a strawberry.  It produces flowers like a strawberry.  It has red fruit growing on long stalks like a strawberry.  It is even related to a strawberry.  But it is not a strawberry.

 

Leaves, runners, fruit… but all is not as it seems…

 

The plant in question is known locally as hebiichigo (蛇苺), literally “snake strawberry”.  There doesn’t appear to be an English common name for Potentilla hebiichigo, although the names mock strawberry, Gurbir, Indian strawberry or false strawberry are applied to the closely related and very similar Potentilla indica.  The latter is known as yabuhebiichigo (藪蛇苺). 

The two are very difficult to distinguish without flowers – the former develops five-petaled flowers, while the latter produces flowers with six petals.

Hebiichigo tends to produce slightly rounder leaves that are lighter in colour, and it prefers more open areas.  So it is most likely that the plants on my commute are indica.

Live and learn.

 

The fruit here is large and slightly glossy, and the leaves a darker shade and slightly pointed. This plant is probably indica.

 

Taken at a different location, this plant has a smaller, duller fruit and rounder leaves (not visible here). Most likely, this is the hebiichigo.

 

Both of these plants have been the victims of nomenclature wars, and are sometimes found under the genus Duchesnea.

 

Another local folk name for the plant is dokuichigo (毒苺), literally “poison strawberry”, and there is a folk belief that the fruit of the plant is poisonous.  In fact, the fruit is not harmful at all, it apparently – I haven’t tested this – is merely lacking in taste.

Yet another folk name is kuchinawaichigo, in which the “kuchinawa” is an old name for snake – apparently it refers to a rotting rope.

The common name is related to a folk belief that snakes ate the fruit, or that they would lie in wait under to plant to attack small animals that came to feed on the fruit.

 

This is a fairly attractive plant, and it is sometimes cultivated for its bright yellow flowers as well as the red fruit.  It is also used in traditional folk medicine to treat fevers and haemorrhoids.

A workmate tells me that as a child she was given a treatment of false strawberries steeped in alcohol for eczema.

I have also found references to false strawberry liqueurs on the Internet.

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4 Responses to “False Strawberry Fields Forever”

  1. celicaxx Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    That raspberry bush is interesting. Do you know what species it is? In USA we have a wonderful raspberry bush called Japanese Wineberry, and it’s a very interesting bush. The berries are actually in pods that open up just when the berries are ripe, and they’re red. The native raspberry near where I live in the Northeast seem to mostly be black raspberries, and the Japanese wineberries are the only red raspberries I ever find in the wild here. Supposedly the wineberry is native to Japan, China, and Korea but I very rarely ever see it mentioned (not that I know enough Japanese to look) as beinga well known raspberry bush in those parts.

    Thanks and very cool blog.

    • wildinjapan Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:14 am #

      Thanks for the shout.
      Actually, I have absolutely no idea as to the species of raspberry – it could be a native like the Japanese wineberry (which I admit to never having heard of before) or a domesticated cultivar gone feral. I’ll have to take another look when I find them again.

  2. Rosemarie Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 6:41 am #

    False strawberry tries to take over my garden in Missouri. I am always having to clear it out.

    • wildinjapan Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 5:02 am #

      I read that they are an invasivie species in some countries. Too bad we can’t get strawberries to grow like that!

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