The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States
Woodland Strawberry (Hillside Strawberry,Thin-leaved Strawberry, European Strawberry)
Fragaria vesca L.
Spring to Early Summer Flowering and Fruiting
Woodland Strawberry is a native low growing leafy perennial forb which usually has the flower cluster held above the leaf level.
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 not stalked. The two lateral leaflets have a slightly in-equilateral base. The end tooth of the leaflet tip is usually as wide to wider than the side teeth and often longer. Leaflets are thin, not leathery. The shape of the leaflet in subsp. californica is more rounded.
The inflorescence is a flowering scape (an above ground extension of the root) rising above the leaves, with the flowers in small clusters.
Flowers: The wild strawberries have 5-parted 1/2-3/4 inch perfect flowers (except sometimes in subsp. bracteata they are pistillate only) with wide white rounded petals. Flowers have a hairy stalk and are placed at the top of the scape. There are 5 green pointed sepals placed alternate with the petals, visible from the front of the flower, and alternating with the sepals are 5 shorter green sepal-like lobes, which are not visible from the front. All are slightly hairy. Slightly back from the base of the flower are a pair of small leaf-like bracts. There are numerous stamens with yellow anthers surrounding a blunt central yellow-green fruiting receptacle composed of numerous carpels.
Fruit: The small fruits, red when ripe, 1/2 to one inch long and somewhat elongate and pointed, are edible and fragrant - 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 fleshy receptacle of the plant's flower. It is in these receptacles that the differences between strawberry species is most noticeable. In F. vesca the achenes are flattened and on the surface of the fruit. Since many mammals eat those receptacles, the small seeds get spread far and wide.
White Fruit: F. vesca can occasionally produce white fruit with red seeds. Taste and aroma remain the same as red fruit. This is due to a genetic mutation in the gene that controls the production of anthocyanins. Lower levels of anthocyanins result in paler fruit. The genetic reason for the white fruit was uncovered during research on the genetics of the many strawberry species found world wide and recently (2021) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Habitat: Wild Strawberries typically prefer a rich soil ranging from full to partial sun in moist to dry conditions. F. vesca prefers more moisture than the other species and more shade. 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.
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. This species was formerly classified as Fragaria americana. The genus Fragaria is from the Latin fraga, for 'strawberry'. The species vesca has several meanings, one being 'thin' and other 'edible'; both terms apply here, as the leaves are thin and the fruit edible. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
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, the Common Virginia Strawberry Fragaria virginiana, usually has the flower cluster at the leaf level or below and the seeds are embedded in small pits in the surface of the fruit. Leaflets are usually on short stalks and the end tooth is usually half as wide and shorter than the side teeth. Leaflets are somewhat thicker than F. vesca. Like garden strawberries, they also spread by runners. Research by Arthur Cronquist and others indicate that F. vesca and F. virginiana do not hybridize.
See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.
Above: The Woodland Strawberry has the flowers and fruit are usually held above the leaves on the scape. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: The five green pointed sepals are placed alternate to the rounded petals, with 5 smaller and shorter lobes between them. The flower stalk and the spreading sepals of the calyx are both hairy.
Below: The leaflets of Woodland Strawberry are usually not stalked and the two laterals have slightly in-equilateral bases. The underside (2nd photo) is paler in color.
Below - leaf comparison: The Woodland Strawberry (1st photo), has the tip tooth of the leaflet is as wide or wider than the adjacent teeth and usually longer. The Common Virginia Strawberry (2nd photo) leaf has the tip tooth of the leaflet narrower and usually shorter than the adjacent teeth.
Below - fruit comparison: Woodland strawberry (1st photo) is longer and elliptical with the achenes on the surface of the berry Note the pair of bracts slightly back on the stalk. The Common Virginia Strawberry (2nd photo) has the achenes embedded in small surface pits.
Notes: The Wild Strawberries are not indigenous to the Garden. Martha Crone, in her 1951 inventory of Garden plants, listed both species (F. vesca and F. virginiana) as present in the Garden. She listed the Woodland Strawberry as Fragaria americana, which is now classified as a variety of F. vesca. She had noted in her Garden Log of 1933 that she planted F. virginiana. Both species of wild strawberry are native to Minnesota. I believe that the time F. vesca entered the Garden was June 11, 1946, when Martha Crone listed planting "50 Wild Strawberry." Susan Wilkins added plants in 2011. F. vesca is found in most counties of Minnesota with most exceptions being in the drier SW quadrant. In North America, with the four subspecies, it is found across southern Canada and in the U.S. from the west coast to the east coast, but not south of Tennessee and North Carolina, whereas F. virginiana is found throughout North America and in most of Minnesota.
Varieties: Four subspecies of F. vesca are recognized in North America- subsp. californica found only in California and Oregon - the leaflets are more rounded; subsp. bracteata found on the West Coast and into the mountain regions of the west - the berry is this subsp. only does not easily separate from the hypanthium; subsp. vesca is restricted to the Ohio River area and New England; and subsp. americana which is the one present in Minnesota and in most of the North American range from the plains states eastward except for the southern states. In this subspecies the fruiting tori is elongate to conic, leaves bright green and the achenes very superficial.
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 notebooks "I do not think much of strawberries in gardens, nor in market baskets, nor in quart boxes, raised and sold by your excellent hard-fisted neighbor. It is those little natural beds or patches of them on the dry hillsides that interest me most, though I may get but a handful at first, where, however, the fruit sometimes reddens the ground and the otherwise barren soil is all beaded with them - not weeded or watered or manured by a hired gardener."
References and site links
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"