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!

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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 Strawberry Moon

Tonight is a full moon, but not just any full moon. In the Algonquian languages, the group of languages spoken by all the original inhabitants of Johnson County (the Miami, Lenape, Kiikaapoi, and Kaskaskia nations), the full moon of June is called Strawberry Moon. This moon is celebrated because it coincides with the strawberry harvest, and the beginning of the local fruit season. People often think that this farm is named after strawberries, but it’s actually named for this moon, this time of year. The beginning of the fruit harvest. Today I’m celebrating the Strawberry Moon more fully than ever before, because we finally have native wild strawberries growing on our land!

I started these strawberry plants from seed over the winter, and they have grown really prolifically. Strawberry seeds require a process called cold stratification in order to germinate. This is a fancy way to say that the seeds need to go through winter before they will sprout. That makes a lot of sense if you think about the life cycle of a strawberry. The seeds are in the fruit, and if they sprouted as soon as they hit the ground in June or July, the plants wouldn’t have time to get big and strong enough to survive winter before it comes. So the seeds are patient. Gardeners can place moistened seeds in the refrigerator for a couple of months to convince the plants that winter has passed, and then give them an early start under lights. The plants are incredibly tiny and fragile at first, so they must be watered from the bottom or with a very fine mister until they gain some size.

Since these plants are so young (strawberries are perennials), they don’t have fruit on them yet. But they do have flowers! And flowers are the promise of fruit. Notice how the flowers shown are white, not yellow. You may have seen another plant that looks very similar. Mock Strawberry (Potentilla indica, formerly Duchesnea indica) looks very similar and even bears little red fruits. But the fruits of the mock strawberry have very little flavor. The Mock Strawberry has yellow flowers, and the fruits are round with little bumps on them. If you look really closely at the fruits, you may be able to tell that they don’t really look like strawberries, but they have duped even some experienced foragers. Admittedly, I’ve never actually tasted a native wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), but I’m told that the flavor is phenomenal. I look forward to acquiring some first hand experience on this subject soon. 😋

Unlike Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca), our native strawberries send out runners. Runners are like long stems that sprout baby plants along them. This is one way that the plants reproduce themselves. Some gardeners prune the runners back, but I am not doing that this year. I’m excited for the plants to spread and reproduce themselves. I don’t think it’s possible to have too many strawberries.

This image shows the mock strawberry, Potentilla indica. This is not a strawberry. It’s not native here, but it is very common. You can see that the leaves look very similar. The fruit is red and round with bumps on it. The fruit is white inside, not red inside like a strawberry, and the flowers are yellow.

Although I’m still currently strawberry-less, you need not feel sorry for me. I’m writing this article powered by a full belly of black raspberries. Black raspberries are another amazing native fruit plant!

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