Around the State
A new strawberry developed at UF with a distinct pale color becomes a national sensation.
In 2020, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) unveiled a new strawberry with a distinct white color that ripens to a pale pink blush. The cross-bred berry was the work of Vance Whitaker, a professor of horticultural sciences and a strawberry breeder. Last year, the berry hit the U.S. and European markets in a big way, garnering huge social media attention with posts generating more than 50 million views.
Seeds of Change
- How do you turn a red berry white? At the UF/IFAS research station in Balm in southeast Hillsborough County, Whitaker took white strawberry seeds from Japan and crossed them with a Florida berry; the seedlings produced fruit ranging from white to pink to red. The pale berries are ripe when a slight pink blush develops on the side exposed to the sun and the seeds turn red.
- UF/IFAS researchers and the Florida Strawberry Growers Association estimate strawberries generate about $300 million annually. Wish Farms is the first national distributor of what the grower trademarked as Pink-A-Boo Pineberries. Wish Farms grows the berries in Plant City and California. The berries retain the same nutrients as other strawberries, UF says.
- White strawberries are carefully cultivated indoors in Japan, where a single berry is a luxury purchase and can cost as much as $10. The origins of white berries were naturally occurring ones that had lower levels of pigments called anthocyanins.
A Strawberry by Any Other Name
- The new berries give off a slight aroma of pineapple, leading them to be called “pineberries.” A U.S. plant patent was issued for the berry in 2021, and UF officially named it the Florida Pearl.
Berry Big Business
- Inventions in new plant varieties developed at UF are assigned to Florida Foundation Seed Producers, a non-profit corporation and direct support organization that is responsible for the technology transfer of new plant varieties. The organization sought an exclusive licensee in 2022. The license was subsequently awarded to the Florida Strawberry Patent Service, a sister organization of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. FSPS has sublicensed numerous nurseries for the propagation of plants and numerous growers for the production of the fruit. All Florida growers (large and small, conventional and organic) can access Florida Pearl plants to grow the fruit. The university reinvests royalties from plant development into its research programs; Whitaker also retains a royalty stake in the berry.
- This year, UF’s pineberries are being grown on about 300 acres in Florida (double last year’s acreage) and about 100 acres in California.