Underused Native Plant: Barren Strawberry

Waldsteinia fragarioides two flowers

The flowers of Barren Strawberry, photo courtesy of Superior National Park

New Moon co-owner James Brown has a list of native plants he wishes people would use more often. So here we begin a series of feature posts on an underused native plant. With spring in full force and strawberry blossoms opening their petals to pollinators, today we feature the Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides).

Also known as Geum fragaroides  this is may be the answer to the persistent question about evergreen native ground covers. EVERYONE is looking for that native alternative to pachysandra, vinca and English Ivy. This, my friends, may be what you are looking for. And unlike those aforementioned ground covers, Barren Strawberry turns a lovely burgundy in late fall and holds that color though the cooler months until greening up again in spring.

waldsteinia fall color

Fall color of Barren Strawberry. Photo – New Moon Nursery

Unlike the white flowers of the strawberry plants we all know and love, Barren Strawberry features bright yellow 5-petaled flowers that appear singly or in clusters in the spring. As the name indicates, though the plant sports cheery flowers in spring they are not followed by berries later on. According to the Wild Flower Guide Northeastern and Midland United States by University of Pennsylvania Botany Professor Edgar T Wherry, 1948, the common name refers to the fact, that, while the plant has the general aspect of a strawberry, neither receptacle nor fruits become fleshy at maturity.”

waldsteinia groundcover

Ground cover of Barren Strawberry. Photo – New Moon Nursery

Naturally occurring from Maine to western Quebec to Minnesota and south to Pennsylvania, Indiana and into the mountains of the southeast, this ground cover may need some protection from hot humid summers. Consider planting it where it will get some shade during the summer months.

Walsteinia fragarioides plant in flower

As far as where to plant it and with what – in their book Planting in a Post-Wild World, Thomas Rainer and Claudia West recommend using Waldsteinia in what they call the functional ground cover layer of a plant community.  Describing these areas as places where “low, shade tolerant species used to cover the ground between other species. Functions as ground cover, erosion control, nectar source.”

According to Donald Leopold in his book Native Plants of the Northeast: “Barren Strawberry is a very adaptable, excellent ground cover worth of consideration for the glossy, deep green foliage alone; spreads via rhizomes. Highly drought tolerant once established.”  And James couldn’t agree more – so why aren’t you planting this?

 

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