GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Vance Whitaker toils day and night to develop the tastiest, best-looking, aromatic strawberries a consumer would want. Yummy enough for a nutritious snack or to help flavor a cake or pie just in time for National Strawberry Day on Feb. 27.
Whitaker, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, leads the UF/IFAS strawberry breeding program. Seonghee Lee, UF/IFAS assistant professor, is a molecular geneticist who collaborates with Whitaker.
Strawberries are still in season, and Florida produces the majority of the nation’s domestic winter strawberry crop, according to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. As National Strawberry Day approaches, Whitaker wants those who savor the fruit to know the unique characteristics of recent UF/IFAS strawberry varieties:
‘Florida Radiance,’ which went commercial in 2009, has an attractive, even, red color and a texture that is not too firm or too soft, Whitaker said. Florida Radiance accounts for about 60 percent of Florida’s strawberry industry, he said.
Sweet Sensation® ‘Florida127’ went commercial in 2013.
“This berry is a combination of big, sweet, tropically aromatic and lighter red,” said Whitaker, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. “While many people assume that the smallest, reddest berries are the best tasting, this is not necessarily the case. Sweet Sensation® explodes that paradigm. Though they may not be as dark red as the other varieties, they really are ripe and taste great.”
Sweet Sensation® account for about 25 percent of strawberry acreage in Florida.
The most recent UF/IFAS variety is ‘Florida Beauty,’ which went commercial in 2017.
“Second only to Sweet Sensation® ‘Florida127’ in taste, this variety has great flavor,” Whitaker said. “It features a great balance with a little more acid kick and also more of a floral than a tropical aroma, but also plenty of sweetness.”
Because it’s so new, ‘Florida Beauty’ occupies only about 5 percent of the state’s strawberry acreage.
The leading strawberry among Florida growers for several years has been ‘Florida Radiance,’ said Alicia Whidden, a commercial horticulture agent for UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County. Whidden cites high yields as at least one reason for the popularity of Radiance among growers.
“I have been hearing good things about the new one, Beauty,” Whidden said. “Growers are excited about the fruit that is coming on this variety right now. They say it is bright red and beautiful.”
Whidden credits Whitaker for his latest cultivars and the ones that he will breed in the years ahead.
“Even sweeter things are to come,” she said.
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