Wild Strawberry – Fragaria Virginiana


Wild Strawberry is a perennial wildflower native to North America that produces edible fruits in early Summer. Scientifically known as Fragaria virginiana, it will grow six inches tall and spreads by above ground runners, leading some to use it as a native ground cover. Attractive to dozens of pollinators & birds, this plant has high ecological value.

Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana

Popular with many types of wildlife, Wild Strawberry is a great plant to naturally attract birds to your yard. Although producing smaller fruits than the cultivated varieties of Strawberries, the flavor is quite sweet. This doesn’t bother the many bird species who will consume the fruit though, and you can expect to see many species plucking the ripe berries from plants in early Summer.

Beyond birds and insects though, many other mammals make use of the fruit and foliage of Wild Strawberry. This plant, although considered a weed by many, should actually be celebrated for the benefits it brings to local wildlife and insects.

In this article:

Wild Strawberry Facts / Quick Reference

  • Although a low-growing fruit producer, Wild Strawberry is a member of the Rose family, Rosaceae.
  • Native Americans used Wild Strawberry as food, but did you know they also made a tea from young leaves?
  • Over 50 species of bee utilize the nectar and pollen from Wild Strawberry flowers
  • Wild Strawberry isn’t actually a reliable producer of Strawberries! If the Spring becomes too hot or dry, the plant may abandon fruit production for the year.
  • An aggressive spreader, Wild Strawberry will spread via seed and from above ground runners known as ‘stolons’.

Native Range of Wild Strawberry

The native range of Wild Strawberry covers most of the continental United States as well as the southern portions of the Canadian provinces. It has been introduced to many areas as well, making the true ‘native’ range somewhat difficult to pin down.

Native Range of Wild Strawyberry, Fragaria virginiana. Source [1]

Wild Strawberry Reference Table

Scientific NameFragaria virginiana
Common Name(s)Wild Strawberry
Native Range, USDA ZoneNorth America, USDA hardiness zones 3-8
Bloom TimeSpring
Bloom Duration, ColorWhite
Height6″ (15 cm)
Spacing / Spread3-10″ (7-25 cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun to shade
Soil TypesSandy loam to clay loam
MoistureDry to medium wet
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBirds, small mammals, pollinators
Sources [1] [2] [3]

Benefits of Wild Strawberry

Pollinators

With the nectar rich flowers, Wild Strawberry feeds over 50 species of bees. The nectar and pollen provide huge value in early Spring.

Birds

Want to attract birds to your yard? Growing native plants is one of the best ways to attract birds to your yard, and Wild Strawberry feeds them in multiple ways via fruit and insects. There are numerous bird species that will enjoy the sweet red fruit of Wild Strawberry while others will eat caterpillars that feed on it’s foliage.

Food for yourself

In proper growing conditions of sun and moist well-draining soil, Wild Strawberry can produce sweet edible strawberries that you can enjoy.

Adds ecological value to your lawn

It appears our nation is waking up to the fact that lawns don’t provide much value to the environment, and there are movements underway to remove lawns. But, if you are going to keep your lawn, know that Wild Strawberry grows short enough to survive lawnmowers, and can therefore feed local pollinators, insects, birds, and other wildlife. So, you can still keep a yard for children to play but also help add some ecological value!

Wild Strawberry growing in a grassy lawn

Grow and Care for Wild Strawberry

Sunlight Requirements

Wild Strawberry will grow best in full sun, which is six hours of direct sunlight per day. The more sunlight it receives, the thicker and larger it’s leaves as well as more CO2 it is able to absorb. [4]

It can grow in partial to full shade though, although it will not spread as much, nor will it produce much (if any fruit) in shadier conditions.

Soil Requirements

Loamy soil is most preferred for Wild Strawberry. Although it can tolerate sandy loam to clay loam as well. It is highly adaptable to various soil types.

Moisture Requirements

For moisture, it will like moist to medium moist soil that drains well. Moisture is required for fruits to be produced. So, if you are having drought-like conditions, provide the plant supplemental water to ensure fruit production.

Maintenance

Wild Strawberry should be divided every 3-5 years to help maintain a healthy plant.

Why you shouldn’t kill Wild Strawberry!

If you have found this article trying to identify that red-fruit producing plant in your lawn, you may be wanting to get rid of Wild Strawberry. But before you go spraying you plants, consider reading below the sections on pollinators, birds, and wildlife and how they benefit from Wild Strawberry. Even though you may feel this is an unsightly weed in your lawn, know that many insects, birds, and mammals benefit from the flowers, foliage, and fruit produced by Wild Strawberry.

I hope you take a moment to read what I have written, and then consider going out to observe the plants in your lawn. You may change your mind about killing it, or at least leaving some for the wildlife in your area.

Controlling Wild Strawberry

The easiest way to get Wild Strawberry out of your lawn is to use a general broadleaf herbicide. But you may need to apply it several times to get all the plants that sprout from runners. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the label.

For applying herbicide to Wild Strawberry, do so when the temperature is less than 90F, and out of full sun if possible. Spray on calm days so that the herbicide only contacts the target plant. Also, spraying while the plant is actively growing will help for the plant to better absorb the herbicide.

If you are just trying to control the plant, then you should prune the runners/stolons. That’s it – if you cut the runners before the new roots grow, you will effectively keep this plant contained. It will take effort, but it does work.

Fertilizer

As a native plant, Wild Strawberry should not require supplemental fertilizer to grow and thrive.

Propagating Wild Strawberry

How to Grow Wild Strawberry from Seed

Fresh strawberry seed should be stored in the refrigerator, dried and sealed in a plastic bag. To achieve a high germination rate, it should be subject to 2-3 months of cold stratification. [5] Scatter or press the seed on moist potting soil and place the container in a location that achieves morning sun and afternoon shade. One could easily accomplish this via Winter Sowing using milk jugs.

Transplanting Wild Strawberry

If you find Wild Strawberry growing in some open land, you may be able to successfully transplant it. Always get permission from the landowner before digging plants. And make sure there are no utility lines nearby.

But I recommend you transplant Wild Strawberry in Fall when the leaves turn red, as the plant is entering dormancy. The cooler temperatures of Fall also mean the plant will not have significant heat load, making a successful transplant more likely. You could also do so in Spring when emerging, but just be sure you correctly identify the plant before digging.

To transplant Wild Strawberry, simply use a spade and dig around the plant and under until you get the root mass. Try to keep as much of the soil attached to the roots as possible. Then, quickly transport and replant in it’s new location and water. If hot temperatures occur in the coming week or two, more water may be required.

Identification and Characteristics of Wild Strawberry

Plants will typically grow 4-6″ tall without a stalk, but will have long stems for the leaves (petioles).

Leaf

Wild Strawberry will have basal leaves that are trifoliate. Each leaflet is approximately 2″ long by 1″ wide and obovate in shape with serrated margins and are medium green in color. The stems of the leaves are 4-6″ long, providing the plant with it’s height. [3]

In Autumn, the leaves will turn a beautiful red color adding further interest.

Flower

Wild Strawberry will produce clusters of 2-9 flowers (umbels) on hairy stems that are 3-5″ long emanating from the root crown. The flowers are 1/2-3/4″ diameter with 5 white petals. Flowers will last for approximately one month in Spring. [3]

Fruit

Fruits up to 1/2″ diameter will form where flowers once were. Wild Strawberry has extraordinarily high in Vitamin C. They can be used as a substitute for cultivated strawberries in any of the same recipes.

Note that when collecting fruits for your own use, they are not very firm and easily crushed. It is important that you remove the leaves where the fruit was attached when picking, as more handling will likely squish the fruit. [3]

Note – if temperatures get too warm or not enough water is available, the plant will not produce fruit.

Root

The root system of Wild Strawberry is fibrous roots from a shallow crown and above ground stolons. An individual stolon will grow up 1-2′ long, and where the tip touches soil, it will form new roots (and a new plant). This is one of the primary ways the plant spreads itself.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Wild Strawberry

Pollinators

Numerous species of bees, pollinating flies, and butterflies will visit the flowers in Spring. Charles Robertson in his amazing 1929 publication of his years or research noted 50 species of bees including short-tongued bees, long-tongued bees, small pollinating flies as well as seven different species of butterfly. [6]

In addition to pollinators there are various species of caterpillar that feed on the foliage such as the Strawberry Crown Borer, Leafroller Moth, Strawberry Seed Borer, and the Grizzled Skipper butterfly. Several species of wasp and sawfly as well as numerous other insects.

Birds

Numerous birds will eat the fruit when ripe. Everything from larger birds like the crow or pheasants to small songbirds such as the American Robin, Trasher, and Towhee.

Mammals

In addition to birds various mammals will eat the fruit of Wild Strawberry such as Black Bear, Chipmunks, Opossum, Raccoon, and field mice. Many of these will also browse the foliage. I strongly recommend that you apply Liquid Fence when first establishing Wild Strawberry.

Deer and Rabbits

When it comes to Wild Strawberry, deer and rabbits tend to leave it alone (surprisingly!). But, considering all of the other animals that will feed on the fruit and foliage, it is of little difference.

Disease

In high moisture environments Wild Strawberry can be susceptible to Verticillium Wilt and gray mold. There is also one pest, the Black Vine Weevil that can harm the plant.

Where you can buy Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a normal ‘garden friendly’ plant (It is a spreader!). But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Wild Strawberry

Culinary uses of Wild Strawberry

The most obvious use of Wild Strawberry is…..to just eat them raw. But Wild Strawberry can be used in place of regular store-bought strawberry in any recipe. The fruits can be dried or frozen for preservation. Pies, jellies, and jams can all be made using Wild Strawberry.

To preserve and dry Wild Strawberry, mash them into a thin layer and spread onto a cookie sheet. Then dry in an oven set on it’s lowest setting. Or, dry them in the sun. If dried in the sun know that the paste needs to be protected and brought inside at night, as well as have a cheese cloth or some other cover to keep insects away. [3][7]

Garden Uses

Due to it’s spreading nature and short height, Wild Strawberry is a great plant to grow in a wild meadow, micro-prairie, border garden or just let it grow in your lawn. It can also act as a good native ground cover.

Companion Plants

Wild Strawberry does well with other low growing plants such as Wild Violet and Spring Beauty. The key thing to avoid is this plant getting shaded out by taller, more aggressive species if planted in a border or wildflower garden.

Native American Uses

As one would expect of a native plant that produces fruit, Native Americans utilized Wild Strawberry. There are over 70 uses of Wild Strawberry documented by around 20 Tribes. Some uses include the obvious ones, using the berries as food (fresh or dried). But the root was used as an infusion to treat stomach aches, some tribes found it to help as a n Abortifacient, used to treat scurvy, liver or kidney diseases, and as a toothache remedy. [8]

Final Thoughts

Although short in stature, Wild Strawberry is a native plant that greatly helps insect and pollinator populations, feeds the birds and animals, and even feeds us humans! It can be grown in many places, but will only fruit if adequate sun and moisture are available, but can make for a nice lower growing plant.

If you are going to have a lawn, then this is one of those plants that can grow within turf grass but will survive the lawnmower. Thus it could actually help provide some ecological value to your lawn, as the flowers will feed insects, and the fruit will feed everything else!

Find more native plants here

References:

[1] – ‘Wild Strawberry‘ USDA. Accessed 26AUG2022

[2] – Moss, Ezra Henry, Ezra Henry Moss, and John G. Packer. Flora of Alberta: a manual of flowering plants, conifers, ferns, and fern allies found growing without cultivation in the Province of Alberta, Canada. University of Toronto Press, 1983. pp 351

[3] – Alan, Hall. “The wild food trailguide [USA].” New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, [1976]. pp.122-123

[4] – Jurik, Thomas W., Jean Fincher Chabot, and Brian F. Chabot. “Effects of light and nutrients on leaf size, CO2 exchange, and anatomy in wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana).” Plant Physiology 70.4 (1982): 1044-1048.

[5] – Gould, K., S. Wood, and A. Smreciu. “Fragaria virginiana ssp. glauca: wild strawberry, Virginia strawberry.” (2013). Retrieved 26AUG2022

[6] – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928). pp. 169

[7] – Fielder, Mildred. Wild fruits : an illustrated field guide & cookbook, Chicago : Contemporary Books, 1983. pp.54-56

[8] – North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 27AUG2022.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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