Background: In northern Iran and other cold regions, winter freezing injury and resultant yield instability are major limitations to strawberry production. However, there is scarcity of information on the physiological and biochemical responses of strawberry cultivars to freezing stress. This study aimed to investigate the physiological and biochemical responses of strawberry cultivars (Tennessee Beauty, Blakemore, Kurdistan, Queen Elisa, Chandler, Krasnyy Bereg, and Yalova) to different freezing temperature treatments (− 5, − 10, − 15, − 20, and − 25 °C) under controlled conditions. Results: All measured physiological and biochemical features were significantly affected by the interaction effect between low temperatures and cultivars. Tennessee Beauty showed the highest RWC at − 25 °C. The highest Fv/Fm was observed in Queen Elisa. Krasnyy Bereg had the least freezing injury (FI) in crown and leaf, while Yalova and Chandler showed the highest crown and leaf FI, respectively. At − 20 to − 25 °C, the highest carbohydrates contents of crown and leaf were noted in Blakemore and Krasnyy Bereg cultivars, respectively. The Yalova showed the highest protein content in both crown and leaf tissues at − 25 °C. The Tennessee Beauty and Blackmore cultivars showed the highest proline in crowns and leaves at − 15 °C, respectively. The highest ThioBarbituric Acid Reactive Substances (TBARS) contents in the crown and leaf were observed in Kurdistan and Queen Elisa, respectively. Queen Elisa and Krasnyy Bereg cultivars showed SOD and POD peaks in the crown at − 15 °C, respectively. Conclusion: Freezing stress was characterized by decreased Fv/Fm and RWC, and increased FI, TBARS, total carbohydrates, total proteins, proline content, and antioxidant enzyme activity. The extent of changes in above mentioned traits was cultivar dependent. FI and TBARS were the best traits among destructive parameters for evaluating freezing tolerance. Moreover, maximum quantum yield of PSII (Fv/Fm index), as non-destructive parameters, showed a significant efficiency in rapid assessment for screening of freezing tolerant strawberry cultivars. The cultivars Krasnyy Bereg, Queen Elisa, and Kurdistan were the most tolerant cultivars to freezing stress. These cultivars can be used as parents in breeding programs to develop new freezing tolerant cultivars.
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