By Wendy Diaz, EMGV
Last year, I noticed a spreading wildflower around the base of my beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa Americana) in a perennial bed along the south side of my house that I originally thought was Wild Strawberry1 (Fragaria virginiana). It appeared amongst my creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), which I was using as a ground cover.
This year, it has taken over the bed and migrated into the lawn and even the aggressive creeping Jenny has lost its battle with this plant, which now covers every plant in the bed that isn’t higher than five inches. A lesson that I should have learned a long time ago … if the gardener ignores a few weeds in the garden, the gardener risks bigger issues in the future. The culprit, as it turns out, is a perennial weed commonly called Mock or Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)2,3and not the native wildflower, Wild Strawberry4. The relatively sudden appearance of this plant in my yard is likely the result of birds eating drupes elsewhere and spreading them to my yard2.
Mock Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)
Mock strawberry is an herbaceous perennial plant of a height between three and eight inches and spreads by runners or hairy stolons3, 5 into large colonies of plants over time. Each plant consists of small trifoliate basal leaves with long petioles that develop from a root crown2. Each leaflet is about one inch across and elliptical with rounded toothed lobes5. Its five-petal yellow flowers of about 0.5-inch diameter appear in spring and develop into tiny edible red tasteless fruit or drupes that are held upright2. Small red seeds form on the bumpy surface of the fruit. It prefers moist soils and partial sunlight and can adapt to regular mowing because of its low growing habit2. It was introduced as an ornamental plant from south Asia.
To help reduce Mock Strawberry lawn encroachment, it is recommended that one improve surface drainage, aerate when needed and conduct infrequent watering5. If the gardener is interested in chemical control, the recommendation for both pre-emergence and postemergence control formulation is provided in detail on the NC State TurfFiles website5. In my perennial bed I have decided to control it by hand weeding and mulch.
Comparison to Wild Strawberry
Wild Strawberry or Scarlet Strawberry can make a desirable ground cover in woodland gardens with some wildlife value1, 4 and it can control erosion on slopes. Mock Strawberry is easily distinguishable from the native Wild Strawberry because its flower is yellow and the Wild Strawberry has a white flower. Other differences include lower growing and smaller leaves of the Mock Strawberry and the drupes are erect. The Wild Strawberry drupes tend to hang downward and the teeth on the leaf edges are sharp-pointed rather than rounded. Best of all, the fruit of the Wild Strawberry is juicy and with a pleasant sweet-tart taste whereas the Mock Strawberry is bland with a dry texture.
Your yard may not have ideal conditions for Wild Strawberry as a ground cover but nevertheless cultural control of Mock Strawberry is more desirable than letting it takeover your ornamental beds and crowding out more desirable lower growing plants.