Wild Strawberry
Fragaria virginiana
Rose family (Rosaceae)

Description: This is a low, colony-forming native perennial plant. A plant typically consists of several trifoliate leaves with long hairy petioles that emerge directly from a central taproot in the ground. Each leaflet is about 3" long and 1½" wide, pale green underneath, coarsely serrated, and obovate or oval in shape. The petioles of the compound leaves are green or dull red and about 3" long. While actively growing, Wild Strawberry produces long hairy runners up to 2' long, which re-root to form plantlets. These runners are often dull red as well.

Each plant can produce one or more clusters of flowers in stalks about 3-4" long, which also emerge directly from the ground. Each flower is about ¾" across and consists of 5 white petals. Toward the center, there are about 25 yellow stamens surrounding a small blunt cone. The blooming period occurs during late spring or early summer, and lasts about 1-2 months. There is no noticeable floral scent. Afterwards, small red drupes are produced that are about ½–¾" long, and shaped like the familiar cultivated strawberry. They are sweet and edible. Unlike Fragaria vesca (Hillside Strawberry), the yellow achenes occur in sunken pits along the surface of the drupe.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun and moist to slightly dry conditions. A rich loamy soil is preferred. Wild Strawberry is a cool-season plant that grows actively during the spring and fall, but becomes dormant after setting fruit during the hot summer months. It is an easy plant to grow, which will spread to form a loose ground cover. It is subject to foliar disease to a lesser extent than most cultivated strawberries.

Range & Habitat: Wild Strawberry is occasional to locally common in most areas of Illinois, but it is uncommon or absent in parts of NW and southern Illinois (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist to mesic black soil prairies, openings and edges of woodlands (including drier areas), savannas, limestone glades, and areas along railroads. Wild Strawberry is able to tolerate competition from taller plants because it develops early in the spring, and is able to tolerate some shade later in the year. It occurs in both degraded and high quality habitats, often not far from woodland areas.

Faunal Associations: The ecological value of Wild Strawberry to various insects, birds, and animals is high. The flowers attract long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, flies, small butterflies, and skippers. Among these, small bees are the most important pollinator of the flowers; this includes such visitors as Little Carpenter bees, Nomadine Cuckoo bees, Mason bees, Halictid bees, and Andrenine bees. The caterpillars of several species of moths feed on the foliage and flowers of Wild Strawberry (see Moth Table). Other insects that feed on Wild Strawberry include Chactosiphum fragraefolii (Strawberry Aphid), Aphis forbesi (Strawberry Root Aphid), and Otiochynchus ovatus (Strawberry Root Weevil). Various upland gamebirds, songbirds, and mammals eat the fruit or foliage (see Wildlife Table), including such prairie-inhabiting species as Tympanuchus cupido (Greater Prairie Chicken) and Phasianus colchicus (Ring-Necked Pheasant). These birds and animals help to distribute the seeds far and wide. People also nibble on the fruits.

Photographic Location: The upper photograph was taken along a roadside near Urbana, Illinois, while the lower photograph was taken at Dave Monk's postage stamp prairie in Champaign, Illinois.

Comments: This is one of the parent plants for the cultivated hybrid strawberry (the other plant being native to Chile). The root system forms a symbiotic relationship with endomycorrhizal bacteria.

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