Category: Rosaceae

  • Indian Strawberry (Potentilla indica)

    Potentilla indica
    Photographed June 16.

    Also called Mock Strawberry. Ubiquitous in lawns, this little weed bears beautiful fruits that look delicious but taste like nothing. Father Pitt has taste-tested these fruits for you, so you will not have to bother. The flavor is not unpleasant, but not pleasant either. If you were starving and came on a lawn full of Indian Strawberries, you would not hesitate to eat more after you had tasted the first; but if you were not starving, you would find no reason to eat more after you had tasted the first.


    In older references this species is Duchesnea indica; modern genetic research shows that it belongs in the genus Potentilla with the Cinquefoils. The common name “Indian” refers not to American Indians but to India, which is in the native range of these plants. Indian Strawberries came here as ornamentals, and they certainly do make an attractive groundcover. In our lawns they are harmless unless you are a grass fundamentalist.

    Indian strawberry

    Gray counts this species as Duchesnea; since the genus Duchesnea is now included in Potentilla, we give his description of that genus as well.

    POTENTÍLLA L. CINQEFOIL. FIVE-FINGER. Calyx flat, deeply 5-cleft, with as many bractlets at the sinuses, thus appearing 10-cleft. Petals 5, usually roundish. Stamens many. Achenes many, collected in a head on the dry mostly pubescent or hairy receptacle; styles lateral or terminal, deciduous. Radicle superior. — Herbs, or rarely shrubs, with compound leaves, and solitary or cymose flowers; their parts rarely in fours. (Name a diminutive from potens, powerful, originally applied to P. Anserina, from its once reputed medicinal powers.)

    DUCHESNEA Sin. INDIAN STRAWBERRY. Calyx 5-parted, the lobes alternating with much larger foliaceous spreading 3-toothed appendages. Petals 5, yellow. Receptacle in fruit spongy but not juicy. Flowers otherwise as in Fragaria. Perennial herb with leafy runners and 3-foliolate leaves similar to those of the true strawberries. (Dedicated to Antoine Nicolas Duchesne, an early monographer of Fragaria.)

    D. indica (Andr.) Focke. Fruit red, insipid. (Fragaria Andr.) Waste ground, grassy places, etc., s. N. Y. and e. Pa. to Fla., Ark., and Mo. (Introd. from Eurasia.)

    Duchesnea indica
  • Japanese Spiraea (Spiraea japonica)

    This attractive bush is a garden favorite, but it seeds itself and can become invasive. It likes a wet location, especially along the banks of a stream. This bush was growing along the Squaw Run in Fox Chapel, where it was finishing up its blooming in the middle of July.

    In the horticultural trade, “Spiraea” is often spelled “Spirea.”

    Gray describes the genus and the species, which in his time had not gained much of a foothold in North America:

    SPIRAEA [Tourn.] L. Calyx 5-cleft, short, persistent. Petals 5, obovate, equal, Imbricated in the bud. Stamens 10-50. Pods (follicles) 5-8, not inflated, few-several-seeded. Seeds linear, with a thin or loose coat and no albumen. — Shrubs, with simple leaves, and white or rose-colored flowers in corymbs or panicles. (The Greek name, from speiran, to twist, from the twisting of the pods in some of the original species.)

    Flowers In compound corymbs.

    Calyx -tube top-shaped, pubescent.

    S. japónica L. f. Stems 1 m. or more high; leaves 7-9 cm. long, glaucous beneath; petals pink to deep rose-color. — Frequent in cultivation, and occasionally escaping, s. Ct. (Graves) and e. Pa. (Introd. from Asia.)

  • White Avens (Geum canadense)

    This unassuming little member of the rose family likes to grow at the edge of the woods; this plant was growing along a trail in Scott Township, where it was blooming in the early July. The white flowers bear more than a passing resemblance to the flowers of blackberries or strawberries.

    Gray describes the genus and the species, which he puts in the Eugeum or Geum-proper division of the genus:


    Calyx bell-shaped or flattish, deeply 5-cleft, usually with 5 small bractlets at the sinuses. Petals 5. Stamens many. Achenes numerous, heaped on a conical or cylindrical dry receptacle, the long persistent styles forming hairy or naked and straight or jointed tails. Seed erect; radicle inferior. Perennial herbs, with pinnate or lyrate leaves. (A plant name used by Pliny.)

    EUGEUM T. & G.  Styles jointed and bent near the middle, the upper part deciduous and mostly hairy, the lower naked and hooked, becoming elongated; head of fruit sessile in the calyx, calyx-lobes reflexed.

    Petals white or pale greenish-yellow, small, spatulate or oblong; stipules small.

    Receptacle of the fruit densely hairy.

    G. canadense Jacq. Stem (0.6-1.1 m. high) and petioles sparingly hairy; leaves soft-pubescent beneath or glabrate, the basal of 3-5 leaflets or undivided, those of the stern mostly 3-divided or -lobed, rather sharply toothed; stipules ovate-oblong, 1-1.5 cm. long, subentire; petals white. (G. album J. F. Gmel.) Borders of woods, etc., widely distributed.

  • Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)

    This little creeper, found in shady lawns everywhere, bears bland, tasteless fruit that looks like wild strawberries, but it’s easily distinguished by its yellow flowers. Children like to tell each other that the fruit is poisonous and then dare each other to eat it. It’s perfectly edible, but not really worth eating. It is nevertheless much valued by herbalists, who suppose it to have useful medicinal properties. These plants were growing in a lawn in Mount Lebanon, where they were blooming and fruiting in late May.

    The word “Indian” in the common name of a North American plant often means “not really.” Indian Tobacco is a lobelia; Indian Bean or Indian Stogie is the Catalpa tree. So it comes as a surprise that this plant, which seems to fit perfectly into that pattern, is actually an Asian import, named not for the aboriginal Americans but for India.

    Although most references place this species in the genus Duchesnea, it seems that modern genetic research (perhaps unsurprisingly) makes it a Cinquefoil in the genus Potentilla. It is not the only “Cinquefoil” with the wrong number of leaves.

    Gray describes the genus Duchesnea and the species:

    DUCHESNEA Sin. INDIAN STRAWBERRY. Calyx 5-parted, the lobes alternating with much larger foliaceous spreading 3-toothed appendages. Petals 5, yellow. Receptacle in fruit spongy but not juicy. Flowers otherwise as in Fragaria. Perennial herb with leafy runners and 3-foliolate leaves similar to those of the true strawberries. (Dedicated to Antoine Nicolas Duchesne, an early monographer of Fragaria.)

    D. indica (Andr.) Focke. Fruit red, insipid. (Fragaria Andr.) Waste ground, grassy places, etc., s. N. Y. and e. Pa. to Fla., Ark., and Mo. (Introd. from Eurasia.)

  • Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

    These fine large trees produce an abundance of little white flowers in narrow racemes, followed by tasty black fruit. The crinkly rough bark of mature trees is distinctive. This tree grew in Riverview Park, where it was blooming in the middle of May.

    The similar Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) also carries its flowers in narrow racemes, but its fruit is red, its bark is smooth, and it rarely grows into more than a medium-sized tree.

    The large genus Prunus also includes plums and many other useful fruits. Cherries with flowers and fruit in narrow racemes are placed in the subgenus Padus. Gray describes the genus, the subgenus, and the species:

    PRUNUS [Tourn.] L. PLUM, CHERRY, etc. Calyx 5-cleft; the tube bell-shaped, urn-shaped, or tubular-obconical, deciduous after flowering. Petals 5, spreading. Stamens 16-20. Pistil solitary, with 2 pendulous ovules. Drupe fleshy, with a bony stone. —Small trees or shrubs, with mostly edible fruit. (The ancient Latin name.) Cerasus B. Juss. Amygdalus L.

    PÀDUS [L.] Reichenb. Drupe small, globose, without bloom; the stone turgid-ovate, marginless; flowers in racemes terminating leafy branches, therefore appearing after the leaves, late in spring. Padus Moench.

    P. serótina Ehrh. (WILD BLACK or RUM C.) A large tree, with reddish-brown branches, the inner bark aromatic; leaves oblong or lanceolate-oblong.

    In Pennsylvania Trees, an extraordinarily useful book issued by the Commonwealth’s Department of Forestry in 1914, Joseph S. Illick gives us this copious description (fortunately the march toward extinction he warns us about has been reversed):

    Prunus serotina, Ehrhart.

    FORM—Usually reaches a height 0f 50-75 ft. with a diameter of 2-3 ft., but may attain a height of 110 ft. with a diameter of 5 feet. in forest-grown specimens the trunk is usually long, clean, and with littie taper, while in open-grown specimens it is usually short. Crown rather irregularly-oblong.

    BARK—On young trunks rather smooth, glossy, reddish-brown, marked with conspicuous white horizontally-elongated lent icela: peels off in thin fiim-like layers, and exposed greenish inner bark. On old trunks blackish, roughened by thick irregular plates with projecting edges.

    TWIGS—Smooth, rather slender, reddish-brown, marked with numerous, pale, round lenticels which in time become horizontally-elongated; pith white or light brown. Often covered with a thin, film-like, grayish coating which rubs off readily. Inner bark has a characteristic bitter taste and a rather pleasant odor.

    BUDS—Alternate, about 1/8 – 1/6 of an inch long, ovate, usually sharp-pointed, smooth, glossy, reddish-brown, covered by about 4 visible ovate bud-acales which are sometimes coated with a smoky or grayish film-like skin. Lateral buds usually divergent but sometimes appressed, flattened, and larger than the terminal.

    LEAVES—Alternate, simple, oblong or lanceolate-oblong, 2-5 inches long, tapering or rounded at bane, taper-pointed at apex, serrate on margin with short incurved teeth, rather thick and shiny above, paler beneath.

    LEAF-SCARS—Alternate, more than 2-rankcd, raised on projections of the twig, semielliptical tendency in outiine, with 3 bundle-scars.

    FLOWERS—Appear in May or June; white, perfect, about 1/4 of an inch across, borne in elongated drooping racemes 3-4 inches long.

    FRUIT—A purpllsh-biaсk juicy drupe, 1/3 to 1/2 of an inch in diameter, arranged in rather open dropping clusters; seed stony. Matures in summer.

    WOOD—Diffuse-porous; rays very distinct; heartwood reddish-brown; sap wood narrow and yellowish; moderately heavy, hard and strong, fine-grained, does not warp or split in seasoning. Young wood is very durable. Its value is due to color and lustre and not to figure. Weighs 36.28 lbs. per cubic foot. Used principally in furniture and finish, also used for tools like spirit levels, implements, patterns, cores, and for high class panels.

    DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS—The Wild Black Cherry, also known as Wild Cherry, Rum Cherry, Black Cherry, and Cabinet Cherry, may be distinguished from our other native species by its larger size and by the rough, dark, scaly bark which is found on the older trunks. For further distinguishing characteristics see Choke Cherry, page 171, and Fire Cherry, page 172. The introduced Domestic Cherry (Prunus avium) can be distinguished from this one by its stouter often grayish twigs, its smoother and shiny bark (Fig. 115) with conspicuous long and high lenticels and its clustered buds at the tips of stubby, lateral, spur-like branches. The fruit of the Domestic Cherry is larger than that of our native cherries and the leaves have rounded teeth often with glands and are frequentiy slightly pubescent on the lower side.

    RANGE—Nova Scotia south to Florida, westward to South Dakota, Kansas, and Texas.

    DISTRIBUTION IN PENNSYLVANIA—Found throughout the State. Rather common but nowhere very abundant. Usually occurs solitary in mixture with other species. Magnificent specimens were present in the original forest of Potter county. Thrifty pure stands of young trees occur at present on the Hull State Forest in southern Potter county. The specimen of this species contained in the Jessup Wood Collection exhibited in the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, was procured in Wyoming county, Pennsylvania.

    HABITAT—Thrives best on rich alluvial soil and fertile slopes. It will grow on dry and often rather sterile slopes. On account of its long tap-root it requires loose deep soil. Forester George Perry reports that this species suffers least from late frosts of all the native trees of southern Potter county.

    IMPORTANCE OF THE SPECIES—This is a very important timber tree. its wood is valuable especially for furniture and interior finish. Nowhere in its range has it ever been very abundant and on account of its prized wood it has been cut extensively. As a consequence it is now becoming rare, in fact marching towards extinction. It deserves to be planted extensively and to be protected carefully where it is found growing naturally.