Wild strawberry plants can cover a lot of ground

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you're looking for a groundcover that is native to Oregon and doesn't require much water, three native wild strawberries are available. You might be able to look no further than your own property to find them.

"If you are lucky enough to have wild strawberries on your property, you can transplant them to where you need them," said Linda McMahan, Oregon State University Extension horticulturist. "Make sure to water them after transplanting."

All three are host plants for native butterflies, and the berries provide food for wildlife.

"Perhaps the best known is the beach or coast strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis," McMahan said. This rapid spreader is native to coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest and Chile. The leaves are dark green and shiny, and the above-ground runners (stolons) are red and help spread the plant.

The coast strawberry performs well in full sun and works well to cover a large area. It's readily available commercially or from native plants growers. Since it is such a good spreader, it may need to be cut back from hardscapes such as sidewalks. On softer paths, foot traffic often will keep it in check. The berries are edible, but not really palatable.

"Another sun-loving strawberry is the Virginia wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana," McMahan said. "At least one of the sub-species is native to the Willamette Valley, although the species itself is native to most of the U.S. To find the best locally adapted kinds, purchase plants from a native plant nursery or from another documented source."

Not quite as vigorous or aggressive as the coast strawberry, the Virginia wild strawberry has lighter green leaves and its berries are edible and tasty, but small.

The third native is the woodland strawberry, Fragaria vesca. As the common name suggests, woodland strawberry does well in the shade. The leaves are larger and bluer than the other species. It likes conditions that are slightly moister and does not grow as aggressively. However, it has larger flowers and tasty fruits.

Several subspecies may be purchased locally. "For those interested in other varieties, a nice one with variegated green and white leaves sometimes is available," McMahan said.

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Linda McMahan
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