Barren strawberry – native evergreen ground cover

With this scarily early spring galloping along, I had better get to the discussion on native ground covers I promised.

There is one little native plant that makes a neat evergreen carpet, has pretty yellow flowers, and is not restricted to acid soils. I wish I could whole-heartily recommend it. On its own merits, I could readily recommend our little barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) as a ground cover for light shade. However, it is very difficult to source. Every generalist nursery or garden centre that I have ever seen offering barren strawberry has the European look-alike, not our little native. What difference it would make to the ecosystem of your garden, I don’t know. Experience has shown that there are differences, and we often find out what they are only after the non-native has proven invasive, at worst, or, at best, has disappointed in some role in providing for birds or pollinators that the native species could have provided.

If you can find a native plant specialty nursery that offers the native barren strawberry, by all means try it out as a little evergreen ground cover.

Barren strawberry has three-parted leaves that are very like wild strawberry,  a little shinier. The bright yellow flowers in mid spring resemble those of strawberry save for the colour. No berries, which is why it is called barren strawberry. Wild strawberry can make a fine ground cover in the right place, but its long overground runners make it difficult to contain. Barren strawberry spreads by short offsets so it will fill in its space nicely but not overrun walks and other garden spaces.

The photo shows barren strawberry growing in the wild. I tried to find a photo of barren strawberry in a garden situation but every one I have is of the European species. They are very similar in appearance. The flowers of the European are fuller, those of the native have slightly narrower petals.

Barren strawberry and a white trillium.
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Published by

Trish Murphy

Artist: botanical, still life, and natural history illustration. Garden designer: native plants and naturalistic gardens