Strawberries as ground cover

Barren Strawberry Facts: Tips For Growing Barren Strawberries

Image by Superior National Forest

If you have a chunk of garden that you would like a ground cover for, barren strawberry plants might just be the answer. What are these plants? Read on for tips on growing and caring for barren strawberries.

Barren Strawberry Facts

Barren strawberry plants (Waldsteinia ternata) are thus named due to their imitable resemblance to edible strawberry plants. An evergreen, barren strawberry is a ground cover with a spread of 48 inches or more but a low height of 6 inches.

The foliage of barren strawberry plants is akin to that of edible strawberries with a wedge shape that turns to bronze in autumn. The plants have small yellow flowers, which again resemble those of edible strawberries, and appear in the spring.

Native to Europe and northern Asia, barren strawberry is sometimes referred to as “dry strawberry” or “yellow strawberry.”


Growing Barren Strawberry Ground Cover

Barren strawberry is an herbaceous perennial that dies down over the winter and greens back up in the spring. It is suitable for USDA zones 4-9. In the mildest zones, the plants will remain as evergreen ground cover year round. This easy-to-grow perennial is suited to a wide range of soils and will thrive in full sun or part shade.

The plant may be considered to be invasive by some, as it will rapidly spread via runners, much like edible strawberries. While barren strawberry is drought tolerant, it does not thrive in the hot temps of the South, better bets would be W. parviflora and W. lobata, which are native to that region.

Use barren strawberry amongst stepping stones or along wooded paths in light shade to sun.

Caring for Barren Strawberry

As mentioned, barren strawberry is tolerant of minimal irrigation, but to avoid stressing the plant, a consistent amount is recommended. Otherwise, caring for barren strawberry is fairly maintenance and pest free.

Propagation of barren strawberry is achieved through seeding; however, once the plant has established, it rapidly sends out runners, quickly filling any available space. Allow the seed heads to dry on the plant and then remove and collect the seeds. Dry and store them. Sow barren strawberry directly outdoors in the fall or spring, or sow indoors before the last frost for spring transplants.

After barren strawberry blooms in the spring, the plant, again like edible strawberry, bears fruit. The question is, is fruit of barren strawberry edible? Herein lies the greatest noticeable difference: barren strawberries are inedible.

The tempting fruit of Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) and a leaf.

Rick Meader | Contributor

You’re walking along in the woods, looking at the ground so you don’t trip on a root, and see a rosy red berry on a low-growing plant that looks a lot like strawberry plants. There are actually quite a few of them on the mat of cute green leaves.

They’re obviously ripe, so you pick a couple and pop them into your mouth. And that’s when the spewing begins. It’s not a bad flavor, it’s really no flavor. You won’t die, as it’s not poisonous, but it’s kind of like eating wood.
You have been introduced to a very nice native plant that may look like a strawberry, but won’t be used on cereal anytime soon, Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides).

Small, but with a big flavor, a ripe Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) about to be eaten by the photographer

Rick Meader | Contributor

Since it’s strawberry season in Michigan, and both barren strawberry and wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) are ripe right now, let’s talk about them. First, the tasty one.

Wild strawberry is a small, three-leaved plant that grows in open fields, prairies, and open woodlands, never reaching more than about six inches tall. It has white flowers that bloom in April and come off a different stalk than the leaves.

The plant spreads quickly via runners, and the berries have seeds sunken into the flesh of the berry. They are popular with small mammals, birds, ants and pretty much anything else that likes a delectable treat (including humans). The berry isn’t really much to look at, and rarely gets bigger than half an inch in diameter, but its flavor packs a wonderful wallop in your mouth.

In fact, according to the Audobon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers (Eastern edition), our wild strawberry was hybridized with a South American strawberry to form the plant that is the strawberry used for most domesticated crops today. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Database, it is native to all of North America.

Now, for the woody one. Barren strawberry, like wild strawberry, is a member of the rose family, has leaves with three leaflets and flowers that arise on a different stem from the leaves.

It is also a low-growing plant that may reach a height of four to six inches but is often much shorter than that. And there, aside from the fact that its fruit is red, end the similarities.

Barren strawberry flowers are yellow, it does not spread by runners, it is even shorter than wild strawberry, often forming a mat of evergreen leaves flat on the ground, and it is mainly found in woods versus open prairies or meadows.

Its fruit, surprising as it may sound to those of you who have tasted it, are not berries at all, but a dry, one-seeded fruit. The USDA Plants database indicates that it is native to most of eastern North America, but is more common in the northern climes.

A diminuitive groundcover formed by Barren Strawberry

Rick Meader | Contributor

It receives nowhere near the popular press that wild strawberry does, but as long as you aren’t looking for food, it can serve as a very nice groundcover, especially in a partially shaded setting. Some out-of-state nurseries carry this in their lines, but it is not widely available.
I did not find any significant uses for the fruit by wildlife in my research. Someone once told me that box turtles eat the fruit, but I have not seen it myself or found sources in print that verify that assertion.

So, if you want to be different, and have no gathering competition in the woods, I suppose you could learn to love eating this plant, but I like to leave this plant’s role in my garden as a groundcover, and wild strawberry as a fun, natural snack.
This week, blooming in my garden are Solomon’s seal, False sunflower, black-eyed Susan, spiderwort, common milkweed, swamp milkweed and butterfly milkweed. It’s quiet in the woods and picking up in the prairie. Have a great week and enjoy nature, everyone!

Rick is a local landscape architect with a special interest in all things natural, including native plants and the critters that eat them. You can contact him at [email protected]

Ornamental Strawberry, a perennial Ground cover, is usually grown for foliage and flowers, not for fruit. It forms a compact, 2-8 inch high mat, with spreading runners in the same manner as other fruiting strawberry plants. You’ll see glossy dark green leaves and pink or white 1″ flowers in spring and summer, followed by small ornamental strawberries. Lipstick usually blooms again in the fall. Both species grow in poor soil, clay, gravel, rocks, sandy, etc., and full sun to part shade, with low water, moderate water or even regular water, but always need good drainage. If you have clay soil, be sure to plant on slope, hillside, or in containers. Makes a good lawn substitute and can be cut back or mowed in early spring to encourage new growth and is hardy to -30F.

Remember, the very characteristic that allows this ornamental strawberry to spread as a great groundcover can also allow it to be invasive if you don’t watch where the runners travel. Easy to pull out runners if they land where you don’t want them. Just pot them up and give them away to friends, but be sure when planting that you don’t bury the crown of the plant!

This is a very tough, dependable plant for almost any landscape. It stays tight to the ground when allowed to spread on its own, but grows a little taller as a border plant. Recommended for difficult filler areas where you need something low growing. Both species take foot traffic when not in fruit, and removing the fruit will encourage longer bloom periods. Needs a lot of sun for fruit production.

Sorry, but as of 5/8/18, there is limited availability on this plant.

Please remember that not all sizes are available at any given time.

Free delivery in Orange County only. We do not ship plants outside Southern California due to weather, shipping service handling, and cost considerations.

Can Children Eat Ornamental Strawberry Plants?

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Ornamental strawberries are grown for the landscape value of their pink flowers and bright green leaves. They also produce small red fruit which curious children may eat without harm. This is fortunate, as children are attracted to the color red, red fruit and juicy strawberries in particular. When it comes to the leaves, though, some caution should be taken by all children and adults not to ingest the leaves unless carefully prepared as tea.


strawberry image by Andrius Maciunas from

Even the small fruit of ornamental strawberries will attract children, and it is perfectly safe for them to eat the little berries. Ornamental strawberries are fragaria hybrids, a cross between a strawberry (Fragaria) and the marsh cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris). Although tiny, the fruit is edible, but the berries will probably not be as delicious as berries from plants grown for fruit production. If a child has a reaction to the berries, he is likely allergic to all strawberries and they should be avoided.


baby plant – strawberry image by joanna wnuk from

Children should be cautioned not to eat the leaves of ornamental strawberry plants. Fresh leaves can do no harm, neither can completely dried ones. However, leaves that have been plucked and become wilted or partially dry can experience a toxic chemical change. When fresh healthy foliage is carefully and completely dried, the leaves from ornamental strawberries can be used as a tea ingredient.


pink strawberry flower image by Rose from

Ornamental strawberries are grown massed in beds or as ground cover. The best ornamental strawberry varieties are those with deep pink abundant flowers such as Fragaria “Lipsitck”. It grows 6 to 8 inches tall and spreads 12 inches wide. Pink Panda has lighter and smaller, 1-inch wide pink flowers but is widely available.


wild strawberry image by Julia Chernikova from

Grow ornamental strawberry plants in full sun or light shade. Pink flowers appear abundantly from spring to fall. The leaves are evergreen year-round in most zones. In colder areas, cut back in late winter to renew the plant. This eliminates droopy old foliage and stimulates the production of fresh green leaves in spring. Ornamental plants reproduce by runners and can invade lawns.

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