Waldsteinia fragarioides – Barren-strawberry
It turns out that for many, many years plants in the horticultural industry sold as native W. fragarioides have actually been the Asian species, W. ternata. It’s somewhat understandable – the two species have a very similar appearance and cannot be told apart in foliage – only in flower can the two species be distinguished. Summer of 2022, one of our employees, Mike Bazzani, asked me how to distinguish the two species (he had read rumors plants being offered by various nurseries were not correctly identified). I replied I honestly didn’t know – I had simply assumed plants were correctly identified, but would see if I could find diagnostic features in the various botanical texts that I owned. None of the texts helped until I got to Weakley’s Flora of the Southeastern United States. Turns out it’s fairly easy to separate the two species in flower: the sepals of W. fragarioides are without bractlets (W. ternata has bractlets about 1/3-1/2 as long as the sepals), the flowers of W. fragarioides are considerably less showy, with petals only 2-5mm wide (the flowers of W. ternata have petals 5-7mm wide), the adjacent petals of W. fragarioides are not overlapping or slightly overlapping (W. ternata has adjacent petals that strongly overlap). All the plants we had in stock, from a few different growers, labeled as W. fragarioides, keyed out to W. ternata. Ooops!!
We contacted growers we had obtained the plant from previously and let them know their plant material was not correctly identified. Sometimes horticulturists casually ignore botanical clarification – in this case our appraisal of the plant material being grown was supported by an earlier publication in Rhodora, the journal of the New England Botanical Club: Rhodora, 122(992):332-335 (2022) by William F. Nichols, Alice Schori, Amy Lamb and Arthur Haines (and probably the source of the rumors that Mike Bazzani had mentioned to me). Most of the growers we contacted have stopped offering W. fragarioides.
We are now actively searching for seeds of W. fragarioides so we can offer this great native groundover. We certainly won’t have any plants available for 2023 but perhaps by 2024…..