Monday, September 21, 2015

Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is a perennial herbaceous wildflower whose fruit is the ancestral foundation of one our most important fruit crops.  The vast commercial strawberry industry in North America began with the tiny, but extremely tasty, fruit of this wild plant. Wild strawberry occurs in every state and province in the United States and Canada, but is extremely rare in Florida - reported only in Jackson and Leon counties near the Georgia state line.
Wild strawberry is most often found in mesic open woodlands and in grassy open fields. It prefers ample, but somewhat filtered sunlight to perform best. It is a creeping ground cover that produces many above-ground stems (stolons) that spread from the main stem and root periodically along their length. It rarely stands taller than 6-12 inches above the ground and can be easily overlooked when not in flower or fruit.  Like its commercial cousins, it has a distinctive 3-parted compound leaf, oval in shape, and with noticeable teeth along the margins. This is also representative of the blackberries (Rubus spp.), but wild strawberry is thornless. There are, however, noticeable soft hairs on the stems and leaves.
Wild strawberry produces numerous 5-petal white flowers in the spring. These are followed by the bright red succulent fruit in June-July. The fruit of wild strawberry is rarely as much as 1/2 inch across, but are far more flavorful than any of the commercial berries you are likely to find for sale. They make exquisite jam if you can find enough to collect. The leaves also make a fragrant tea that is high in Vitamin C.  The tea is made by adding about 1/2 cup of the leaves to 2 cups of boiling water and letting it steep before straining.
Wild strawberry is rare in Florida and none of our native nurseries propagate it commercially. It is widely grown, however, by sources close to us. If you choose to give it a try, choose a source as close to Florida's growing conditions as possible and use it as a ground cover for areas that receive at least half day sun and in soils that are neither too droughty or too wet.


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