Native Wildflowers for Shade

I’ll miss the native wildflowers at my old place, as I had abundant shade. (Starred items  [*] are the ones I’ve grown in Pennsylvania.) Others I’ve seen in local parks. Next year, when the trees have grown a bit, I’ll have some. In the meantime, let me tell you about some of my favorites. All of these grow in our zone 6. 

Maidenhair Fern (Adiatum pedatum) This fern has black, wiry stems and delicate fronds that curve downward. They must have consistently moist soil. At our Texas Hill Country farm, when we had abundant rain, springs came out the side of the hill, encircled by maidenhair fern.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a ground cover with heart-shaped leaves as much as 6 inches across. A dark red flower appears under the plant in early spring. It looks great surrounding the base of a tree.

*Spiderwort (Tradescantia) From summer to early fall they produce clustered, three-petaled flowers. I love “Sweet Kate,” which has purple flowers and chartreuse blade-like leaves. Mother grew them between the house and the driveway.

Trillium ( same botanical term) Single flowers consist of three large petals., with three leaves. Blooms April-May. Comes in white, yellow, reddish purple.

*Wood Poppy or Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) Four-petaled yellow flower with deeply lobed leaves. Blooms May-June.  Once used for gallbladder and liver problems.  When these were first available in DC, they were so popular that they sold out quickly. I had to wait until the next year to buy mine!

*Foam Flower (Tiarella) The perfect perennial for spring interest in the shade garden. Finely dissected green leaves have dramatic dark burgundy centers and form a rounded, clumping habit. Creamy, bottlebrush-like flowers.

*Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) has been hybridized into many color combinations. Double flowers exist. As for me, I prefer the native original in yellow and coral-pink blossoms. It tolerates clay soil. Takes full shade.

Bloodroot  (Sanguinaria canadensis) Anemone-like two-inch white flowers with yellow center. The root is red and supposedly the Native Americans used it as a cathartic and to treat rheumatism.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) White ¾-inch flowers that look like an upside down pair of breeches! Grows in early spring.

*Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) They grow in upside down, bell-like  clusters. Open in pink buds and turn a soft blue. Bloom in April and May.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit  (Ariseama triphyllum) boasts unusual, hooded green blooms with burgundy-striped interiors that surround an upright spadix, known as the “Jack” inside each flower. Blooms evolve to produce brilliantly red berries. A truly stunning, unique plant for the shade garden, Jack in the Pulpit can reproduce and spread over time in moist soils. 

There is a cultivated form of Jack-in-the-pulpit—Arum italicum—which is easy to grow. Its common name is Candle Flower.  It has glossy green, arrow-shaped leaves with white stripes. They arrive in very early spring. It too forms a spath, which is cream-colored inside the flower and evolves into a stalk of orange red berries in early fall. It is not easy to transplant, however, as its roots are tenacious!

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) Sometime called “Mary Blue Eyes.” It has a weak stem bearing whorls of 4-6 stalked, 2-lipped, blue and white flowers rising from axils of opposite, mostly stalkless leaves. This plant is sometimes so abundant in woodlands as to form a blue carpet on the forest floor. I saw it in a nature park in Greene County. It blooms April and May. The seeds of this delicate annual are shed in the summer and germinate in the fall, the seedlings persisting through the winter. The species name is the Latin word for spring and describes the flowering time. 

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) Mayapple is unique in that It has only 2 leaves and 1 flower, which grows in the axil of the leaves. The large, twin, umbrella-like leaves of mayapple are showy and conspicuous. They remain closed as the stem lengthens, unfolding 6-8 inches across when the plant has reached its 1-1 1/2 ft. height. The solitary,nodding, white to rose-colored flower grows in the axil of the leaves and has 6-9 waxy white petals, with many stamens. The nodding fruit is a large, fleshy, lemon-shaped berry. 

The common name refers to the May blooming of its apple-blossom-like flower. Although the leaves, roots, and seeds are poisonous if ingested in large quantities, the roots were used as a cathartic by Native Americans. The edible, ripe, golden-yellow fruits can be used in jellies. 

Wild Phlox You can tell that spring is really here when the wild phlox bloom! It is blooming now along the roadsides and in the fields. They are either pink or white and grow 2 to 3 feet tall. Phlox is one of those rare flowers that has no botanical name—just the common name “phlox.”

Barbara Wittman Alsip was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, of German, Austrian and Prussian grandparents. Her father was a horticulturist, (Texas A&M, Class of 1919), and her mother was active in garden clubs and flower growing. She has two grown sons and two grandsons.

She received her BA and MA in French and Spanish from Texas Christian University and her PhD in French from Emory University. She taught at the university level for a number of years.

At her first home in western Pennsylvania, she had 165 trees, evergreens, flowering trees, perennials, herbs and annuals. She is looking forward to landscaping, with Bedner’s direction and help, at her new home.

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315 Coleman Road, McDonald, PA 15057
(724) 926-2541

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