Beverly Shores is beset with a large variety of invasive ground covers. Periwinkle (Vinca minor) is everywhere, choking out much of the low-level foliage wherever it spreads. English ivy is planted widely. You can see extensive stands of Japanese pachysandra along the lakefront and elsewhere. What about native alternatives for these widespread invaders?
Running strawberry bush (Euonymous obovatus) is worth a try. We are located on the northwest edge of its range—it is uncommon but native in northeast Illinois, more common in Michigan where it occurs in all the counties in the southern half of the lower peninsula. It looks a lot like periwinkle, but can be distinguished by its obovate leaves—the widest part of a leaf is more than half way out to the tips of the leaves from the stem end.
Running strawberry's foliage and flowers are not showy in summer but when fall comes, the leaves turn pink to purple and last until November or December. In late summer, a very exotic looking fruit bursts open. The fruit has an outer orange or pink surface but when it opens, it reveals scarlet seeds, making a very striking appearance. In spite of the name, these inedible fruits bear no relation to actual strawberries. This attractive plant’s stems remain green all season long.
In the right conditions, running strawberry bush will continue spreading almost indefinitely. New roots can develop where the stems have contact with the ground, reproducing vegetatively. The plant prefers partial sun to medium shade and moist to lightly dry soil. Well-drained areas are preferred. Even though it is best characterized as either a dwarf shrub or as a woody vine, due to its low growth habit, running strawberry bush makes an excellent ground cover.
You can use running strawberry bush to vegetate partially shaded slopes, hillsides and patches in the woodland garden. Running strawberry bush is an excellent replacement for the invasive climber wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) as well as the ubiquitous creeping nuisance, periwinkle, and the other invasive groundcovers mentioned above. It can also help fill in where extensive removal of oriental bittersweet may have taken place. One drawback: deer consider running strawberry very tasty, so when deer populations are high, the species declines or disappears.
When shopping for running strawberry bush, you will have to look for native plant sources and specialty nurseries. This can be tricky, as many sources will confuse American strawberry bush or “Hearts-a-burstin,” Euonymus americanus, or other, non-native Euonymous.
American strawberry bush is native to the southeastern U.S., including a number of southern Indiana counties. Indeed, it is native to nearby Vermillion County, Illinois (Danville, near Champagne), and may very well migrate farther north as our climate warms. It is a very showy plant, but doesn't have the same low-growing habit that makes running strawberry so well suited as a groundcover
If you are looking for a substitute for Japanese pachysandra, another native of the southeastern U.S. is a possibility. Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is native as far north as several Indiana counties along the Ohio River, and it has been grown successfully in Beverly Shores. It likes shady locations in the forest understory. It is arguably prettier than Japanese pachysandra, with its varigated blue-green leaves and flower spikes in early spring. Be aware that Allegheny spurge will lose its leaves in colder-than-normal winters. It doesn't expand rapidly, so while you won't need to worry about it behaving like an invasive, you will need to be patient.
If you have questions about running strawberry or other native or non-native plants, don’t hesitate to contact Terry Bonace (firstname.lastname@example.org), Candice Smith (email@example.com), or Bill Schaudt (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance. Also please explore our website, www.bserg.org, for further information on invasive plants and native replacements.