Groundcovers Lawn Weeds

The Strawberry Plant That Isn’t?

By Larry Hodgson

Question: In the lawn of our backyard, there is a small plant which resembles a tiny strawberry plant. It produces small yellow flowers which eventually by the end of summer become tiny red “fruits”. They’re about the size of the end of my little finger but have absolutely no taste. Could this plant be a sort of precursor to modern strawberry plants?

Russ Clark
Lachine, Québec

Answer: That would be mock strawberry (Duchesnea indica, now more correctly Potentilla indica), also called false strawberry, Indian strawberry or backyard strawberry.

Montage showing details of Mock strawberry flowers and fruits.
Mock strawberry certainly looks like a strawberry plant, but the yellow flowers and dry fruit give it away! Photo: ???????, Wikimedia Commons

It’s indeed a very close relative of the strawberry, but not a precursor. It’s a small groundcover plant with trifoliate leaves and creeping stolons, just like a true strawberry (Fragaria spp.). Of course, the yellow flowers are a sure giveaway, as true strawberries only have white, pink or red blooms. The small red fruits are edible, but insipid. Even so, they are harvested and eaten in parts of Asia where it’s native from Afghanistan to the Russian Far East and Malesia. It has also been used as a medicinal plant in its native range.

Mock strawberry with red fruits.
Our great-grandparents grew mock strawberry as an ornamental plant. Photo: bol.com

Mock strawberry was a popular groundcover plant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but hasn’t been offered very often since then. Your plants probably originated from garden escapees from that period. The plant is remarkably persistent!

It was also offered as a houseplant at one time, as it is evergreen and remains attractive indoors all winter as long as its light and watering needs are met. Also, it once had a certain popularity as a hanging basket plant. Again, though, it hasn’t been trendy in a long, long time.

Most often these days it is seen as a garden escapee, as in your case, having become a minor lawn weed … well, if you consider a pretty little flowering, fruiting plant in the lawn to be a weed. It has become established in temperate and subtropical regions of North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia.

Mock strawberry used as a groundcover
Mock strawberry used as a low-growing groundcover. Photo: simonapavan, depositphotos

You might want to try moving a mock strawberry from your lawn and growing it on its own. It’s well suited to sun or partial shade and adapts to most soils, either acid or alkaline, in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. The flowers bloom mostly in spring and early summer, although there is sporadic bloom until fall. Berries are ripe and bright red from late summer into fall. They’re very popular with birds.

Mock strawberry can also be grown from seed, occasionally offered by mail order. There is also a variegated cultivar with green and white leaves: ‘Harlequin’.

I once had mock strawberry in a lawn and just let it be. It was harmless enough and gave my lawn a bit of color. Plus, it attracted all sorts of pollinators, including native bees. It’s low enough that you can mow right over it, so required no special attention on my part. But then, I’ve always preferred a mixed lawn to the endless carpet of boring grass that is so popular these days!

Garden writer and blogger, author of more than 60 gardening books, the laidback gardener, Larry Hodgson, lives and gardens in Quebec City, Canada. The Laidback Gardener blog offers more than 2,500 articles to passionate home gardeners, always with the goal of demystifying gardening and making it easier for even novice gardeners. If you have a gardening question, enter it in Search: the answer is probably already there!

3 comments on “The Strawberry Plant That Isn’t?

  1. Amy Roberts

    I have these in my yard and I was told that they were wild strawberries and not edibles. Thank you for the info.

  2. This mixes with the native (real) strawberry here. It was planted in a park nearby, likely as a mistake. I suspect that it was supposed to be the native strawberry.

  3. Ellen Asherman

    I have been forcing paper whites for years, placing them on a ‘nest’ of small glass beads in a tall glass vase (to support the leaves). I’ve been careful to place just enough water in the vase to come to the bottom of the bulbs (to prevent rot).

    This year I’ve only had 1 bulb sprout roots out of 8! Help! The odorous blooms are an essential winter lift, and I love to give them to friends.

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