These images capture the varieties of smaller, darker berries commercially produced before the standardization of the supermarket distribution chain called for larger, tougher varieties that could stand a trip across the country. But these berries are by no means untouched by human tinkering. By the early 20th century, the University of Vermont’s Vern Grubinger writes, strawberries had undergone several revolutions in breeding; 19th-century American growers created a productive variety that “changed the strawberry into a major crop grown all across the continent.” But these cultivars still retain something of the diminutive, sweet quality of their forebears.
Botanical illustration has historically been a relatively socially acceptable way for women to participate in science. A good portion of the artists who worked for the USDA to produce these accurate illustrations in the age before reliably reproducible color photography were women. Their names appear in the captions below.