We're all familiar with the plump commercial strawberries that greet us in the produce section of the market. You might be surprised, however, one day when you're walking along the sidewalk and notice strawberries creeping along the ground. There are many wild varieties of strawberries native to North America that can grow almost anywhere and are surprisingly similar in appearance to the store-bought varieties.
Like commercial strawberries, wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is a ground cover plant with toothed trifolate leaves and bright red berries that grow from white flowers. The fruit grows on long stalks that stick up from the plant, and the plant spreads horizontally by stretching its runners to new roots. Wild strawberries are smaller and shaped like cones compared with cultivated strawberry varieties, but the flavor and smell of the berries is similar. It is found throughout the United States in forests, roadsides, streams, fields and lawns.
The woodland strawberry, or Fragaria vesca, is another native cousin of the strawberry plant that grows all over the United States including valleys, forests, meadows and streams. The root system is just like commercial and wild strawberries, with runners that spread and propagate new roots in a sprawling fashion. The leaves also exhibit the same ribbed, trifolate formation, but are a brighter green color and have a hairy surface. Fruit is sweet and delicious for eating when picked ripe.
Somewhat different in appearance from other wild varieties, the beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) has leathery, shiny leaves and long stems. It bears trifolate leaves with round toothed edges and a very hairy underside. The fruit is 1 inch across and very flavorful. True to its name, the beach strawberry, or sand strawberry, grows on beaches and sand dunes as well as nearby grasslands from Alaska to Southern California.
The scientific name for this common North American plant is Duchesnia indica, but also commonly called "mock strawberry." Although it exhibits the same runners and ground cover growing habit, along with triple leaflets seen in other wild strawberry varieties, the Indian strawberry has yellow instead of white flowers. Its leaves and fruits are smaller than other strawberry varieties and the berries lack strong flavor.
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