Wild strawberry is a low, ground-hugging herbaceous perennial, rooting from runners. Flowers are borne in clusters, each with 5 white petals and many stamens, in the arrangement typical of the rose family. Blooms April–May. Leaves compound with 3 egg-shaped leaflets with toothed lobes, on hairy stems, dark green. Fruit is a delicious red “berry” (technically it’s an aggregate fruit; notice the many seeds on the outside of the fruit), about ½ inch across, ripening June–July.
Similar species: The nonnative, weedy Indian strawberry (mock strawberry), Duchesnea indica, has yellow petals instead of white, and its “strawberries” lack juiciness and flavor.
Height: to about 6 inches.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs on open slopes, prairies, rocky hillsides, borders of woods, old fields, and a variety of other situations. Some people cultivate it as a groundcover or rock garden plant, although it tends to become dormant during the hottest months. The commonly cultivated strawberries available at garden centers are hybrids between this native species and a strawberry species native to Chile. So far, there are around 250 different cultivated varieties of strawberries available for gardeners.
This species is one of the parents of the cultivated strawberry. The U.S. commercial strawberry industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Strawberries, of course, are eaten fresh, frozen, made into juice and wine, and cooked into delicious pies.
This plant is valuable to many different animals: The nectar and pollen feed numerous species of bees, butterflies, and other insects. Several mammals nibble the leaves. And the fruits are savored by creatures ranging from box turtles and birds to bunnies and boys (and everyone else)!