It will happen soon.
You will be walking into the local corporate owned grocery store, or a big box store, and your eyes will wander to a brightly colored wrap touting exotic looking strawberries in a pack of plants by the front door, or in the garden area. It will say Hula Berry on them.
And you will wonder, what is a Hula Berry?
It’s a Pineberry. Which is a term most people have not heard of. That is due to the unique flavor profile of the berry. For they have a taste that makes one think of Pineapple. Far too often though, articles will call them alpine strawberries, which they are not.
It is a hybrid of North American red strawberries Fragaria virginiana, and white strawberries native to Chile, Fragaria chiloensis. The actual Hula Berry plants are not self fertile, they need a red strawberry plant for that to happen. So usually you will see the plants sold in packs of 4, with 3 being it, and 1 being the red (a Sonata Berry plant). This means you must have active pollinators that have easy access to the plants, and you must keep the plants close together (within 12″). It will also at time produce red strawberries as well. In theory of course.
For the past few years the push to sell these strawberries has grown – because they can ask a very premium price on a product that doesn’t always deserve it. Since you only see them at certain places, they come across as exotic and rare. Also, because they are a branded item, that raises the price.
Don’t get me wrong, they are fun to grow for sure.
But I have found over 6 years of growing them, the actual crop is about this….yearly:
That is if you are lucky. And being I have children, you can guess how many I get. 1 berry. Oh boy! Big time eating!
Maybe there are growers who can grow these babies like crazy and are hauling in basket after basket, but for those I know in the growing community, most of us get the same results give or take.
That they are a flop in general. For me at least.
I’ve grown them in ground, raised beds, in baskets hanging, in gutters. What they excel at is putting on runners for sure, and making a mat over the ground. Very few flowers occur yearly.
So it is disappointing because you spend money and time, but don’t get the promise.
And you have to ensure your single pollinator plant, the male red one, doesn’t die. I have to think overall that is what has happened to my sets. That the lone red didn’t make it over the winter (which in itself is sad because strawberry plants are very hard to kill off, they are some of the most resilient plants you can grow).
So, if you do get lured in, try them out, but realize they might flop. And that is OK. Just treat it as an annual plant.
There is though a better alternative out there.
Actual alpine strawberries. Calling Hula Berries “alpine” isn’t right. They are full sized berries, and further, do not grow like alpine types. Alpine strawberry plants are so different looking that many people don’t quite recognize them at first. Most of the varieties grow like small delicate bushes. Rather than having a small rooted plant, and a zillion runners that criss cross the ground. Only a few of them produce runners. Most alpine strawberry types are of European ancestry as well. You can grow white (White Soul, Ivory and White Solemacher are 3 to talk about), yellow and many shades of red. The berries are typically small compared to commercial strawberries. But have a lot of flavor. They also typically don’t produce berries that do well for selling. They are best picked and enjoyed quickly.
Growing them has a learning curve, when it comes to seeding them. They need a lot of time. It can take up to 14 weeks for them to germinate. But once that happens, you are on easy street. And even if you think you have killed a plant over winter, give it time…chances are it will come back to life. They grow well in raised beds, in the ground and in hanging pots. The only area I found they didn’t do well was in gutters. Just too big for that.
Many years ago, when we were first starting farming and homesteading, I grew my first alpine, Yellow Wonder, and was hooked on the plants. Some years I have grown as many as 18 types of alpine berries at once. I blundered into a small company called The Strawberry Seed Store, and became a loyal customer yearly.
A great example is the variety Fragaria vesca, also known as ‘Pineapple Crush’. The berries are ample, delicious, and once the seeds germinate you won’t look back.
Various color berries – and showing how they look physically.
On a side note, for much of North America, wild strawberries look like this:
Tiny little berries, suited for Chipmunks and small birds to nosh on. On our island these grow everywhere, especially in rocky areas with little water (they don’t hate Madrona Trees I have found).