The Native Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) : Tiny Berries of Joy

Indiana has a native wild strawberry, but it’s not the one you think it is.

Long before I had a farm or even a garden, my friends and I sometimes snacked on little red berries that grew very commonly in unsprayed lawns and open fields. These little red berries were round, covered in protruding bumps, white on the inside, and almost totally flavorless. Despite their lack of flavor, it was fun to pick them and eat them. We were told that these berries were wild strawberries, and so we believed. However, it turns out that the red berries we gathered were not strawberries at all. We had been fooled by the mock strawberry!

Do your own thorough research before touching, foraging or ingesting any new plant. Mistakes can happen and so can allergies, interactions, and idiosyncratic reactions. Information presented in this article and elsewhere on this web site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any health conditions. View our full legal disclaimer here.

This strawberry misconception is very widespread. The true native strawberry is wildly delicious, but many people dismiss it because they’ve been tricked by the mock strawberry. Mock strawberry is a much more common plant in this area, even though it isn’t native here. In fact, I’ve never seen a native strawberry in the wild. That is a fact I sincerely hope to change by planting many strawberry seeds and helping you to do the same! These plants are easy to grow, and with a little work and a bit of luck, we could be all swimming in jam in just two summers.

Before we go any further, let’s distinguish these two very different (but similar looking) plants.

Mock StrawberryNative Wild Strawberry
Scientific NameDuchesnea indica (formerly Potentilla indica)Fragaria virginiana
Native RangeSouth AsiaAll over North America, including Indiana
Leaf DescriptionStrawberry Shaped, No RunnersStrawberry Shaped, With Runners
Flower DescriptionYellowWhite
Fruit DescriptionUsually blueberry sized.

Red outside, round shape, white inside.

Small raised bumps all over the fruit.

Little to no smell, bland or unpleasant flavor.

Not a strawberry at all.
Usually raspberry sized.

Red outside, strawberry shaped, mostly red inside.

Indentations all over the fruit, each one containing a tiny seed.

Smells like a strawberry, tastes like a strawberry.

Is a strawberry.
Mock Strawberry, Duchesnea indica, formerly Potentilla indica
Mock Strawberry (Duchesnea indica). Notice how there are bumps all over it instead of indentations? Notice also how it is round and not shaped like a strawberry.
Fragaria virginiana, Native Wild Strawberry
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) in flower. Note that the flowers here are white, whereas mock strawberry flowers are yellow.
Fragaria virginiana (Wild Strawberry) berries in a bowl
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) fruit. See the indentations where the seeds go? There are tiny yellow seeds in the hollow cavities around the outside of the fruit. There are no bumps protruding from the fruit like there are on the mock strawberry.

The Native Wild Strawberry : Uses

Now that we have cleared the good name of this admirable plant, let’s learn more about it. The native wild strawberry can be used as you would use any strawberry. The fruits are smaller than store-bought strawberries, and are closer in size to a large raspberry. Although the fruit is small, it’s very flavorful, and I’ve never seen anybody turn up their nose at a raspberry because it wasn’t as large as an apple. Since my strawberry patch is young, I haven’t yet harvested large enough quantities of berries to make pies, jams, or wine from them. In fact, they rarely even make it to the kitchen, because I eagerly eat them all straight off the plant while I’m working in the garden. This is a berry that needs no enhancement, but I believe it would work exceptionally well in any strawberry recipe.

I’m aware of some edible and medicinal uses for strawberry leaves, but I won’t write about that here because I haven’t tried it yet myself. You can read more about that from Livestrong if you’re interested.

The Native Wild Strawberry : Cultivation Instructions

Fragaria virginiana is easy to grow, but it does need a little extra care in the seed-to-seedling stage. To start, the seeds require sixty days of cold stratification. Don’t let that scare you away! It sounds fancy, but you can definitely do it. One simple way is by storing the moistened, planted seeds in a refrigerator for two months. For more detailed instructions, check out my full article about cold stratification. After you bring your planted seeds out of the refrigerator, they may begin germinating very quickly. However, germination may be staggered such that some of the seeds take much longer to germinate than others. Don’t give up on them. Put them under grow lights as soon as they begin to emerge. Water gently, either by bottom watering or using a very fine mister. That part is really important, and I’m speaking from experience. These plants are so tiny when they first sprout that they can easily be crushed by a strong stream of water from a regular spray bottle or a hose or a faucet. I prefer to start my strawberry seeds right about now, in January. Then they can be moved out of the fridge and into the warm germination area in March, and planted outside in May.

Once your plants have grown to a robust size and the weather has warmed, you can begin hardening them off by gradually acclimating them to life outdoors. Use the same process as you would for tomatoes or any other garden plant. I like to wait until after the danger of frost has passed to plant my strawberries in the garden, even though strawberry plants are frost hardy.

I planted my strawberries in a raised bed in full sun, because I really wanted to get them off to a great start. They very quickly filled the bed and overflowed into the walkways. This coming spring, I plan to divide my two year old patch and try establishing some of these strawberries in the wilder spaces of my farm. I have read that they can grow along the woodland edge, that they tolerate quite a bit of shade, and that they don’t mind damp soil. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if they carpeted the whole farm. Could one possibly have too many strawberries?

The Native Woodland Strawberry

It’s worth mentioning that there is another native strawberry called the woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca). Fragaria vesca is the same species that is sometimes called the Alpine strawberry. There are several subspecies of Fragaria vesca, and not all are native to Indiana. The two subspecies that are native are Fragaria vesca ssp. americana and Fragaria vesca ssp. vesca. I haven’t yet found a source for seeds or plant starts for these native subspecies. However, I grew alpine strawberries in my very first garden, and they were lovely. I don’t know what subspecies mine were, but I think they were European. In any case, my alpine strawberries grew very well in sunny garden soil and that they did not spread or produce runners. The berries were small like the wild strawberry, and similarly delicious. If I ever find seeds or plant starts for one of our native woodland strawberries, I will jump at the chance to grow them on my farm.

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If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider sending some love my way! You can help further this cause of Earth-positive agriculture by commenting on this blog, sharing this article with your friends, following me on social media, and interacting with my posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss me a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi, or make a purchase from my online shop. Thank you for reading.
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” -Garrison Keillor

For Further Reading

The Strawberry Moon
Starting Seeds With Cold Stratification
Native Plants for the Woodland Edge

The American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) : A Versatile Native Nut

I spent most of my childhood in Indiana, and most of my adulthood as well. Yet, I didn’t know that we had a native hazelnut until I started this farm. The more I learn about this tree, the deeper in love I fall. Not only is this a very easy-going tree, but it’s also fast growing, quick to bear nuts, prolific, multi-useful, and adaptable. It can grow in sun and shade and anything in between, it can handle boggy soil and well-drained soil, and it can begin to produce nuts in only 2-8 years1. This species also offers highly valuable and diversified harvests. In addition to providing an edible nut crop, the wood of the American Hazelnut is valuable for basketry, garden structures such as trellises, and many other applications2.

I have planted a few hundred American Hazelnut trees here at Strawberry Moon Farm, but mine are not yet mature enough to produce nuts. Because of that, some of the information I am sharing with you now is first hand knowledge, and some has been gathered through reading, through discussions with other growers, and through my own recipe experiments with commercially available hazelnuts. I have done my best to include citations throughout this article as applicable, and also at the bottom of this article in the “Sources” section.

The American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), also known as American Filbert, is a small tree or shrub in the Birch family, with a mature height of about 8-16 feet and a spread of 8-13 feet3. It is native to Indiana, as well as most of the Eastern half of the United States and Canada4. Although our native hazelnut is a different species than most hazelnuts that are available commercially, it is closely related and similar in use. By most accounts, the nuts produced by our native tree taste like the more familiar European species, though they are smaller in size.

American Hazelnut Uses

Do your own thorough research before touching, foraging or ingesting any new plant. Mistakes can happen and so can allergies, interactions, and idiosyncratic reactions. Information presented in this article and elsewhere on this web site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any health conditions. View our full legal disclaimer here.

Hazelnuts are highly valuable as a food source. Hazelnuts are praised by most nutritionists as part of a healthy diet5 due to their protein, healthy Omega 3 fats, and numerous vitamins and minerals. They are also very versatile in the kitchen! Hazelnuts can be made into delicious nut milks, nut butters, oils, flours, or consumed whole raw or roasted as a snack. I find them to be an excellent replacement for almonds in every recipe I have tried.

Why do I need a replacement for almonds? As a person who eats a mostly plant-based diet including lots of nuts, I am concerned about the environmental impact of my consumption of almond, cashew, and coconut products. These popular nuts are grown far away from my home, carrying a hefty transportation footprint. Some of these nuts may be cultivated in unsustainable agriculture systems, or the product of exploitative labor practices. I believe sustainably cultivated, locally grown nuts are an important step on the path towards sustainability and community resilience. Native nuts such as the American Hazelnut are the ideal options for local cultivation, since native plants are well adapted to our growing conditions and have important co-evolution relationships with the native animals, insects, and soil microbes. When we grow native nut trees as a part of a sustainable agriculture system, we can help to heal our ecosystems and our communities.

Nuts in general are a long-keeping food that can help sustain local communities through the dormant season. Long keeping foods such as nuts, beans, root vegetables, and preserved foods can provide locally-grown nourishment. I have found that the raw, whole hazelnuts I purchase can last about a year when stored in a sealed container in my cool basement.

Growing American Hazelnut

This tree fills a very valuable niche in the food forest. It can form hedges, it can grow in shade, and it can handle some moisture. It is the fastest producing nut tree that I know of, with a bearing age beginning at 2-8 years. Most other nut trees require at least ten years of growth before they can bear nuts, and some (like the Shellbark Hickory) may even require 40 years! The American Hazel is small and shrubby

Although this tree is said to tolerate moist soils, in my own experience it is not well suited to high flood waters or periods of sustained flooding. I have had very low survival rates from this species in my wetland floodplain, but I am currently working to plant another hedge of American Hazelnut on higher ground in a slightly boggy area, which I expect to flourish. I also plan to replace some of the invasive honeysuckle bushes I am removing from my woods with American Hazelnut. I will continue to update you as that project develops.

Troubleshooting American Hazelnut

When I speak about American Hazelnut, people often comment that they have a tree, but it never produces nuts. Since this is such a frequently asked question, I investigated further. I found two theories as to the cause of this particular issue.

My first answer came from Chris Gonso of Worries Are Gone Farm. I visited Worries Are Gone Farm in September on a chestnut-related quest, and while I was there I was treated to a very informational tour of the grounds. Among the many wonderful sights on this farm, I saw a thriving population of American Hazelnut. There was a large hedge growing in one area, and many more individual shrubs interspersed under the forest canopy. I asked Chris all my hazelnut questions. His theory on the missing nuts: add more plants.

Some sources (such as SF Gate) claim that American Hazelnut is self-compatible (which means that pollen from one tree can fertilize blooms on the same tree). However, other sources disagree. Either way, since this species is wind pollinated, a large number of plants may be necessary to ensure adequate pollination. Wind pollination is a fairly inefficient means of pollination, and more plants means more pollen on the wind, which means more pollination, which means more nuts.

My second answer comes from the book “Native Plant Agriculture, Vol. 1”, produced by Indigenous Landscapes. According to the book, “We’ve observed that non-local genotype can struggle to set nuts possibly because the cross pollination is affected by climatic transplanting”. The author recommends purchasing seeds or plants that originate from as close to your own climate as possible to increase your chances of success.

The American Hazelnuts at Worries Are Gone Farm certainly seemed prolific. I even saw nuts on the bushes growing deep in the woods under the shade of the canopy! Chris reported much better productivity from the bushes he planted in full sun, but it was clear that some nut production can occur in shady plantings. Additionally, shady plantings can be grown and pruned for a wood harvest.

“American hazelnuts are a good option for folks looking for something hardy and resistant to filbert blight. They produce even after late spring freezes and I’ve never seen them miss a year in production. Their main drawbacks are a smaller sized nut compared to the European hazel and an extra step in processing as the nuts usually need to be removed from the husk. Overall, they are a joy to grow and work with with everyone in my family loving them, especially the kids.”

Chris Gonso, Worries Are Gone Farm

For Further Reading:

Native Plant Seed Sources and Resources
Tree Planting Startup Guide
Native Plants for the Woodland Edge
Native Plants of the Deep Woods
Two Years In Review: A Progress Report

Sources:

Hazelnut Trees Are Easy – Cornell Small Farms Program
USDA Plants Database – Corylus americana Walter
Worries Are Gone Farm
Indigenous Landscapes
Missouri Botanical Gardens – Corylus Americana
Plants For A Future – Corylus Americana
American Hazelnut – Arborday

Join The Newsletter

Stay in the loop with all the latest content, upcoming events, and shop discounts!

We respect your privacy and strive to be good stewards of your data.

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider sending some love my way! You can help further this cause of Earth-positive agriculture by commenting on this blog, sharing this article with your friends, following me on social media, and interacting with my posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss me a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi, or make a purchase from my online shop. Thank you for reading.
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” -Garrison Keillor