At Froberg Farms in Alvin, Texas, the annual strawberry picking is in full swing. Blemish free and filled with fresh-from-the-field sweetness, berries can be purchased in the farm store, but the fun lies in taking a bucket into the fields and gathering the fruit by hand. Fields no longer are mulched with straw — a traditional practice sometimes said to have given strawberries their name — but not much else has changed when it comes to planting and harvesting.
The strawberries we enjoy with our shortcake and ice cream are a cross between a native North American wild strawberry, Fragaria virginica, and a South American native, Fragaria chiloensis.
Wild strawberry can be found in far northeast Texas, while another native strawberry, Fragaria vesca, thrives in our more northerly states. In Texas, F. vesca is listed only in Culbertson County, in the western part of the state; even there, it’s considered rare. Also known as the wild (or woodland) strawberry, it’s smaller than F. virginica, but still tasty.
A third ‘strawberry’ common in my part of the world is the mock strawberry, or Indian strawberry: Duchesnea indica. It would be easy to assume this plant’s name refers to Native Americans, but in fact it takes its name from the nation of India, from which it was introduced as an ornamental plant.
Much smaller than other strawberries, it’s round and perfectly edible. Unfortunately, while true wild strawberries are juicy and pleasantly sweet/tart, mock strawberries tend to be dry and bland.
Still, the dainty species has attractive foliage, flowers, and fruit. Its flowers are yellow, rather than white, and the trifoliate leaves are lower-growing and smaller in size, making it an acceptable ground cover where conditions are right. Like true strawberries, its seeds are produced on the outside of the fruit, and in the case of the mock strawberry, the effect can be dramatic.
Mock strawberry also tends to spread aggressively, leading some to declare it planta non grata. Shel Silverstein, ever the philosopher, asks a few interesting questions before making the point more humorously:
Are wild strawberries really wild?
Will they scratch an adult, will they snap at a child?
Should you pet them, or let them run free where they roam?
Could they ever relax in a steam-heated home?
Can they be trained to not growl at the guests?
Will a litterbox work, or would they make a big mess?
You’ve been warned, and I will not be blamed
if your Wild Strawberries cannot be tamed.”