The Common Virginia Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, is a native perennial forb, that usually has the flower cluster at the leaf level or below.
Varieties: Four are accepted - see notes at page bottom.
Leaves are all basal on long stalks. They are 3-parted, toothed on the margins and the individual leaflets are usually on short stalks and the leaflet tip tooth is usually half as wide and shorter than the side teeth. Leaflets are somewhat thicker than F. vesca. The leaflets vary in shape between two of the four varieties of this species. Like garden strawberries, they spread by runners.
The inflorescence is a cluster of small flowers at the top of the flowering scape (an above ground extension of the root), usually held at leaf level or below.
Flowers: The wild strawberries have 5-parted 1/2-3/4 inch flowers with wide white rounded petals that have clawed bases. Plants can vary in having flowers that are functionally bisexual (perfect), functionally staminate (male) or functionally pistillate (female). Flowers have a hairy stalk. There are 5 green pointed sepals placed alternate with the petals and alternating with the sepals are 5 green shorter bractlets. All are slightly hairy. There are numerous stamens with yellow anthers surrounding a blunt central yellow-green receptacle composed of numerous carpels.
Fruit: The small fruits, red when ripe, 1/2 to 3/4 inches long and somewhat rounded, are fragrant and edible - see below. We should clear up the terms however. The actual fruit of the strawberry is the small achene that is embedded in what has become the red fleshy receptacle of the plants flower. It is in these receptacles that the differences between strawberry species is most noticeable. In F. virginiana the achenes are embedded in small pits in the surface of the fruit. Since many mammals eat those receptacles, the small seeds get spread far and wide.
Habitat: Wild Strawberries prefer a rich soil ranging from full to partial sun in moist to dry conditions. F. virginiana prefers less moisture than the other species and more sun. The roots are rhizomatous and plants will send out above ground runners in early summer, which root at their nodes. Crowns of the original plants are usually not divided, simple thin out the plants and transplant. Once a runner is rooted, it can be separated from the parent plant. The plants runner prolifically and are real spreaders.
Names: The common name of "strawberry" is believed to come from old English "straw", the past tense of "strew" which refers to the tangle of vines the plant can make on the ground as it grows and grows. It has nothing to do with placing straw under the berries as they ripen. The genus Fragaria is from the Latin fraga, for 'strawberry'. The species virginiana refers to the state of Virginia - where originally collected. The author name for the plant classification of 1768 - ‘Mill.’ refers to Philip Miller, Scottish botanist (1691-1771) who was chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden and wrote "The Gardener's Dictionary" in which he published this description.
Comparisons: The common cultivated strawberry, Fragaria × ananassa, is a cross between the wild strawberry and the Chilean strawberry. It has similar but slightly larger flowers and much larger fruit. The other wild strawberry, F. vesca, the Woodland Strawberry, holds its flower clusters on a hairy scape above the coarsely toothed leaves with the flattened seeds on the surface of the fruit. Its leaflets are mostly stalkless. and the two lateral leaflets have a slightly in-equilateral base. The end tooth of the leaf is usually wider than the side teeth and often longer. Leaflets are thin. Research by Arthur Cronquist and others indicate that F. vesca and F. virginiana do not hybridize.
Above: 1st photo - Flowers of the Common Strawberry, - flowers of both species of wild strawberry look the same. 2nd photo - The flower stalk and the spreading sepals and bractlet s of the calyx are both hairy.
Below: 1st photo - Plant in flower. 2nd photo - The calyx has 5 green pointed sepals, alternating with 5 shorter bractlets. All with surface hair.
Below - leaf comparison: 1st photo - The Woodland Strawberry. The tip tooth of the leaflet is as wide or wider than the adjacent teeth and usually longer. 2nd photo - The Common Virginia Strawberry leaf. The tip tooth of the leaflet is narrower and usually shorter than the adjacent teeth and the leaflets usually have short stalks.
Below: 1st photo - The root system of F. virginiana. 2nd photo - An example of a runner forming a new plant.
Below - Fruit comparison: 1st photo - The Woodland Strawberry with the seeds on the surface. 2nd photo - Fruit of Common Strawberry with the seeds embedded in small surface pits.
Below: The flowers and leaves of the Common Virginia Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana.
Notes: The Wild Strawberries are not indigenous to the Garden. Martha Crone, in her 1951 inventory of Garden plants, listed both species of wild strawberry ( F. vesca and F. virginiana) as present in the Garden. She had noted in her Garden Log of 1933 that she planted F. virginiana. Both species of wild strawberry are native to Minnesota. F. virginiana is found in most counties of the state with only a handful of scattered exceptions. In North America is has been found throughout, whereas F. vesca is much more restricted.
Varieties: Four are accepted: var. glauca; var. virginiana; var. grayana; and var. platypetala. The first two are found in Minnesota, the differences being whether there are spreading, appressed and or ascending hair on parts of the stolons stems and leaf stalks. The other two both have spreading hair throughout and are distinguished by leaf differences. See Flora of North America, volume 9 for a key.
Lore: In her study of plants used by the Minnesota Chippewa, Densmore (Ref. #5) reports on several uses of F. virginiana. The leaves are slightly astringent and the root is diuretic. For digestive system ailments of children the method was to steep 2 or 3 roots in a quart of boiling water. Then let the child drink freely of it. Of course the berries of both species can be eaten. F. virginiana was introduced to Europe from Virginia in 1629 according to Mrs. Grieve (Ref. #7). Prior to that F. vesca had it's own history in plant lore. It is also astringent so many of the uses were as laxatives, diuretics and astringents. More unusual, the fresh fruit was considered a dentifrice and a cosmetic. If fresh juice was allowed to remain on your teeth for five minutes and then cleansed with warm water to which bicarbonate of soda was added, teeth discoloration would be lessened [perhaps it was the soda]. Also if a freshly cut berry was rubbed over your face immediately after washing, the skin would be whitened. Left on for a longer time, sunburn could be treated. Tilford (Ref. #39) reports on strawberry leaf tea: "It is high in vitamin C and is known to possess diuretic and mild astringent qualities." The tea was also used for inflammations of the mouth, eyes and skin.
As food: The Virginia strawberry is preferred over the Woodland berry for flavor - and either over the cultivated berries. Fernald (Ref. #6) reports "it was a pretty poor family of pickers (at least in central or northern Maine) who could not return in late June or early July with half a bushel to a bushel of luscious berries ready for the kettle.....after two days of such outing and the mother's long vigils in the kitchen, had a year's supply of the most delicious preserve and jam ever put up."
Thoreau wrote in his manuscripts (posthumously published) "They are at first hard to detect in such places amid the red lower leaves, as if nature meant thus to conceal the fruit, especially if your mind is unprepared for it The plant is so humble that it is an unnoticed carpet. No edible wild fruit, except the bog cranberry (Vacciniae oxycoccus), and that requires to be cooked, lies so close to the ground as these earliest upland strawberries.
What flavor can be more agreeable to our palates than that of this little fruit, which thus, as it were, exudes from the earth at the very beginning of the summer, without any care of ours?"
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"