FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Waldsteinia fragarioides is an evergreen mat forming wildflower that can form large colonies from underground rhizomes. Leaves are compound with three glossy toothed fan shaped leaflets. In spring plants are graced by a sprinkling of bright yellow blossoms. This attractive groundcover thrives in average well drained soils in sunny or partly shaded gardens and in difficult dry shaded sites.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Waldsteinia fragarioides occurs from New Brunswick south to Maine and northern Georgia and west from Ontario to Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and northern Alabama.
This species is indigenous to moist or dry upland conifer forests, mixed hardwood and pine woodlands, thickets, clearings and fields.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 4-7.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Waldsteinia fragarioides is a low growing strawberry-like perennial groundcover. Plants proliferate from shallow sinewy rhizomes.
Leaves are trifoliate with three fan shaped leaflets in each leaf. The leaflets are 1-2” long with an equal width. They are coarsely toothed and glossy often with a few scattered hairs. Foliage is generally evergreen but may develop a bronzy patina in winter.
From early until late spring, the foliage mats are topped by cheerful yellow flowers. Each bloom is about ½” across with 5 rounded petals surrounding a dense central cluster of golden stamens.
After flowering, dry seed clusters containing 2-6 achenes form.
Plants have a dense compact habit with a 3-6” height and an average spread of 12”.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Waldsteinia fragarioides grows best in sunny or partly shaded sites. Plants prefer slightly acid well drained humus-rich soils but will tolerate almost any well drained soil.
This trooper also thrives in sites with shade, drought, clay, high salinity, and light foot traffic.
Plants slowly and steadily expand from rhizomes to form a dense carpet that is fairly competitive with weeds. The species matures into large stands or colonies but is not considered to be aggressive or invasive.
Barren strawberry is fairly pest resistant and is usually not palatable to deer. In moist sites plants may have occasional issues with slugs.
This species is generally low maintenance and very easy to grow but it fares best in climates with cool summers and tends to languish in the heat and humidity of the deep South.
LANDSCAPE USES: Waldsteinia fragarioides is an attractive Edging or Groundcover for the Perennial Border or Rock Garden. Since plants are evergreen and tolerant of dry shade, they are an appropriate substitute for overused Asian groundcovers. Waldsteinia fragarioides provides Showy Blooms and Winter Interest to Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings and Shade Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try planting Waldsteinia fragarioides with Aster divaricatus, Carex appalachica, Scutellaria ovata, Solidago caesia or Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’
Chrysogonum virginianum has comparable height, habit and cultural needs. It also has yellow spring flowers and could be substituted in a pinch.
TRIVIA: As the common name implies, Waldsteinia fragarioides looks similar to a strawberry plant. It can be differentiated due to its broader leaflets, below ground rhizomes, yellow blooms and dry non-edible fruit. The native strawberries usually have narrower leaflets, above ground stolons or runners, white blooms and red fleshy (often tasty) fruit.
This species is a member of the Rosaceae (Rose Family) and is also known as Geum fragarioides.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=WAFR