A friend in Seattle just sent me this:
I have a question for you. I saw a ground cover plant from the bus, seemed like strawberry, but yellow flower, height is like 5-7″. do you recognize it? it’s so pretty, and looks really healthy.
If you know, let me know.”
This is a good question.
That sounds like barren strawberry (aka Appalachian or false strawberry), Waldsteinia fragarioides. This plant is native to the Eastern United states where it is listed as threatened, endangered or as a species of special concern. It could also be the species from Europe, Japan and China, Waldsteinia ternata. Mobot has good pictures (see links above) that will help determine which species it is.
It’s in the Rose family, like the strawberries which are genus Fragaria. Barren means fruitless. It does have a fruit but not the pretty, edible kind you’d expect from a plant that looks so much like a strawberry. It’s fruit is a kind of spiky-looking ball of achenes.
Waldsteinia is named after an Austrian botanist, Count Franz Adam Waldstein-Wartenburg (dang!). The specific epithet, ‘fragarioides’ means ‘strawberry-like’. ‘Ternata’ means three leaflets.
It’s landscape use is great, as you saw. It’s pretty tough in fun or partial shade and slowly, or very quickly depending on who you ask, forms a dense enough mat to shade out weeds and has some seasonal interest with the showy flowers. Only drawback? It’s only semi-evergreen.
By the way, you must have eagle eyes to notice all that from the bus!
Ps. To loyal zone 4 readers: this one is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7.