Are California strawberries the perfect plant? After all, this evergreen groundcover requires very little care, grows in a wide range of conditions, attracts birds, and produces irresistible berries. That's quite a package for a plant most gardeners overlook.
California strawberry (Fragaria californica) is an evergreen groundcover that spreads generously by rootlike structures called stolons. This wild California native is similar to cultivated strawberries, but its leaves are smaller, as is the plant. It forms a dense, soft groundcover. The leaves are a light green tinged with red. In the summer, many delicate, deep red berries appear. These berries are tender and round, more like a rosy red blueberry than a large garden strawberry.
The California Strawberry grows in the wild from Santa Barbara north along the coast and from Tulare county, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, up into Northern California. You can also find it here and there on mountains in Southern California. It's often tucked away in lush forests under conifers and oaks and, in coastal regions, among shrubs in the scrubland.
The berries of the California strawberry have an intense flavor, richer than most cultivated strawberries. It's as if all the flavor found in a giant garden strawberry has been concentrated into the little fruit of the California strawberry. These small fruits are a favorite of young children who can spend hours hunting for the small fruits among the fuzzy leaves. The delicate little fruits make great garnishes for desserts or can be picked and served fresh for a summer treat. The berries are also loved by native birds, so are a good asset for a wildlife garden.
California strawberry can be planted as groundcover, or even a lawn substitute, in shady areas. It can grow under the canopy of both coast live oaks and pines. This wild strawberry needs very little, if any, water in most regions of the state. California strawberry grows in wide variety of soils, from the heavy clay in northern California to the sandy soils of many coastal regions. Plant California strawberry in native soil. California Strawberry can survive on rainfall alone if you receive an average of 30 inches of precipitation a year, including fog drip. So in most coastal regions where fog is plentiful it will grow with no irrigation. Plant in part shade in hot interior climates and full sun along the coast for more berries.