University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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NATIVE PERENNIALS FOR SHADY LANDSCAPES

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Most perennial gardens rely on introduced species from other regions and countries, or cultivars (cultivated varieties) that have been developed by plant breeders.  Increasingly, gardeners are turning to perennials native to our region.  These are often better adapted to our climate, pests, and diseases.  As such, they often require less care and maintenance.
   
Amount of sun plants need, and receive, is one of the main considerations in choosing perennials—native or not.  Here are a dozen native plants for shady perennial gardens in New England, for various soils and providing color from spring to fall.  Make sure to buy plants that have been propagated, not collected from the wild, from reputable retailers. 

•    Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) and white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) are two to four foot perennials that produce white flowers in late spring. Their red or white berries add interest to the fall garden, but use caution as they are poisonous if ingested.
•    Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), a parent of the popular Columbine hybrids, produces pink/yellow to red/yellow flowers in spring and is less susceptible to leaf miners than the hybrids. Its three-foot height makes it a good candidate for the back of the shade garden.
•    Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) can reach 3 feet tall in a rich moist shade garden. The green and purple flowers are a very interesting addition to the spring garden.
•    Canada ginger (Asarum canadense) is the satiny-leaved relative of the shiny-leaved European ginger.  It makes a good groundcover, under a foot high, with inconspicuous flowers but large heart-shaped leaves.
•    White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is one of the few asters that grow in shade (or sun).  Growing a foot or more tall, it is covered with small, white daisy-like flowers in fall.  Unless you want it to self-sow and make a nice groundcover, “deadhead” or cut off flowers when finished blooming.
•    Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) has rounded leaves, and reaches a foot or more tall.  It is the one you see in masses in wet areas in May with buttercup yellow flowers.
•    Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is an 18-inch plant that produces small yellow-green flowers in spring, before the leaves mature. The blue berries in grape-like clusters are a beautiful addition to the late summer shade garden.
•    Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), a white-flowered 3-foot plant, is native to riverbanks and other moist, shady sites. The plant's common name refers to the shape of its flowers, which are held in small clusters at the tips of stems.
•    Solomon's seal (Polygonatum commutatum) is a white-flowered plant that grows 3 to 5 feet tall. The bell-shaped flowers hang from arching stems in May.
•    False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa) has arching stems 2 to 3 feet tall, with white flowers clusters at the stem tips in May. 
•    Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)  produces delicate white flowers in June. There are both clump-forming and spreading cultivars to choose from.  This plant is a great alternative to the non-native Japanese spurge (Pachysandra).
•    Labrador violet (Viola labradorica) is just a few inches tall with a spreading habit. A purple-leaved variety also is native and has white/mauve flowers in the spring.


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