CORVALLIS (AP) - A century or so back the tasty but temperamental Marshall strawberry brought fame to Oregon's Willamette Valley.
Researcher from the U.S Department of Agriculture have tried to find the real identity of the strawberry's cultivar to try to re-establish it but even their cutting-edge genetic technology hasn't been able to do so.
Early in the 20th century, Marshall strawberries commanded the same market recognition as Marion blackberries do today.
"This was a value-added name," said Kim Hummer, supervisory horticulturist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service Corvallis.
When growing conditions were suitable, Marshall strawberries produced a very tasty, high-quality fruit, she said.
But under poorer conditions the finicky vines often produced fruit that was small, seedy and unattractive.
Even under the right conditions, Marshall strawberries were soft and often left a trail of juice when taken from the fields.
Marshals sometimes were planted with similar varieties, creating the possibility of crossbreeding, Hummer said.
So researchers at USDA's National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis wanted to ensure that their version of the variety was the real thing, she said.
Hummer dubbed the effort "CSI - Corvallis," since USDA plant geneticist Nahla Bassil relied on DNA extraction technology similar to that used on the popular television crime series.
Bassil compared genetic markers from the Oregon cultivar with other varieties believed to be Marshalls from Beltsville, Md., and Bainbridge, Ga.
"Right now, the markers say they're different cultivars," Hummer said.
The identity of the true Marshall is still unknown, but farmers can obtain varieties with characteristics that match historical descriptions of the cultivar from the repository, she said.
The experience goes to show that real life doesn't often follow the same plot as television, said OSU Extension berry specialist Bernadine Strik. "Technology is making us even more confused."