Five Great Native Perennials for Full Shade
Some gardeners are reluctant to plant mast-producing trees and shrubs because they feel that shade is too difficult to plant attractively. Areas of full shade in your garden certainly do limit your options where some popular annual and perennial flowers are concerned, but as interest in naturalistic landscaping has risen, so has interest in shade gardening, and most garden centers now carry a wide selection of plant suitable for shady environments.
Most of the most popular shade plants continue to be non-native species, or non-native relatives of native species such as hostas, bleeding hearts, and non-native ferns. Though these plants are hardy, adaptable, and beautiful, native gardeners might prefer to look closer to home for perennials to brighten up the dark corners.
Some of our best native perennials for full-shade include:
Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
One of our most popular and adaptable native ferns, the beautiful Lady Fern likes well-drained, moist, or wet soils in full or partial shade. It is more tolerant of drought than other ferns, but may die back in dry conditions to re-emerge the following season Lady ferns are hardy from zones 2-8 and provide cover and nesting material for many species of birds. Bears and elk are among the animals who use lady ferns as a food source. More great native ferns include the Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and the Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Another of our most popular native shade plants, the colorful and prolific blossoms of the Columbine attract butterflies and hummingbirds in spring. Columbines have spiky seedpods that make interesting additions to dried floral arrangements. They spread readily from seeds and have attractive foliage once the blooms are gone. Hardy to zone 3, they prefer well-drained soil and full or partial shade.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
One of the most unique and recognizable flowers in the world, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit also produces attractive bright red berries in late summer. It likes rich soils that are well-drained or moist and is hardy to zone 3.
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
Though Wild Ginger is not related to its Asian namesake, it has a similar taste and can be used as seasoning in dishes calling for ginger. In addition to its edible qualities, Wild Ginger has attractive heart-shaped leaves and an unusual blossom. It requires deep shade and prefers rich, moist soil.
White Woodland Aster (Aster divaricatus)
Though asters are better known as sun loving plants like the beautiful New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae), there are a number of species that prefer full or partial shade. White Woodland Aster is the showiest of these, producing prolific white blossoms resembling small daisies for six weeks or more in late summer and early autumn. Woodland asters are especially good plants for gardeners with dry shade, as they are extremely drought tolerant. Like sun-loving asters, shade-loving asters attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to the blossoms. The all-you-can-eat insect buffet in turn attracts birds, who also flock to the seeds in late autumn and early winter. Other great woodland asters include the Heart Leaved Aster (Aster cordifolius), the Calico Aster (Aster lateriflorus), and the Big Leaf Aster (Aster macrophyllus).