By Naomi Judd

Strawberries are delicious fresh off the plant, in fruit salads, strawberry shortcake, smoothies, ice creams, pies and more. There are several varieties of wild strawberries and dozens of varieties that are grown commercially and in gardens. Some of the most popular varieties grown today are the Earliglow, Allstar and Redchief (June Bearers) and the Tribute and Tristar (Day Neutrals). Strawberries are typically red, heart-shaped berries with small yellow seeds all over their bodies and 7 to 12 small ovate leaves at their crowns. Though there are so many kinds of strawberries, most share characteristics that make it possible to identify a strawberry plant.

Look for fruit first. This is the easiest way to identify a strawberry plant, but many varieties will not fruit until late June or July. Wild strawberries such as Fragaria viginiana, F. chiloensis (beach strawberry) or F. vesca which are found in the Pacific Northwest are small fruit about 1.5 to 2.5 cm across. Strawberry varieties grown in gardens or commercially (the ones you see in the grocery store) tend to be much larger.

Look for small, white flowers that have 5 to 7 rounded petals (more commonly 5) and a short yellow cluster of stamens with pollen in the middle. There may be 5 to 9 flowers on any flowering stalk. Strawberry plants are in the rose family, so these flowers are actually little roses and resemble wild roses in their shape.

Observe the leaves of the plant you suspect to will bear strawberries. The leaves of most are thick, 3-parted, toothed, have coarse veins and are slightly hairy on their stems. Leaves may be anywhere from 3 to 20 cm in length depending on what kind they are and how well nourished they are.

Take a look at the runners. Strawberry plants usually have short, thick rootstocks connected by short, hairy runners.

Consult a guide book to wild plants in your area if you are trying to identify a wild strawberry plant. Some grow closer to the coasts and others are strictly woodland varieties. If you are trying to identify something in your garden, take a photo and show it to a gardener that has experience cultivating strawberries.