November / December 2002
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MADE FOR SHADE
A casual stroll through any natural wooded area will reveal a rich
diversity of plants that enjoy the shade. Make this stroll often
enough and you will likely find that many of these shade loving
plants do produce appreciable blossoms. Some in fact are quite spectacular.
As we have been rediscovering the beauty and practicality of using
the plants that are native to our state in our home landscaping,
we have found a good number of flowering perennials that are made
for shade. These plants can be purchased at nurseries that specialize
in native plants. A few are even beginning to show up in the garden
centers of mass merchandisers as well.
To help you select these plants for use in your landscape, we will
describe shade in three different ways. Full shade is a place where
the sun never shines. Dappled shade is a place that receives broken
light such as under a tree. Part shade is a place that receives
some direct sun at different times of the day, but is still mostly
Fern acacia (Acacia angustissima) is thornless and can be grown
throughout the state in any soil type. The fuzzy white flowers are
small (1/2 inch) but appreciable during the summer months. Spreading
from underground rhizomes, the soft shrub grows only two to three
feet tall. Being a member of the legume family, fern acacia also
produces nitrogen in the soil. Great for co-habitating with trees
and other plants! Can be grown in dappled to part shade.
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is a spreading perennial
to about two feet tall. White flower clusters appear in spring.
Native to wooded areas of central and eastern Texas, plant it in
dappled to part shade in well drained soil.
Widows tears (Commelina spp.) is found throughout the state. Commelina
can be grown in any soil. Flowers appear from spring to fall in
shades of blue to occasionally white. Spreading and invasive, commelina
makes an excellent groundcover in dappled to part shade.
Turk's cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) can be grown anywhere in almost
any soil with the exception of the Panhandle. Bright red flowers
are followed by red berries from summer to fall. This plant is a
must for bird lovers. Reaching only three feet tall in north Texas,
Turk's cap can get quite large in southern parts of the state. A
white flowered variety is also available in the nursery trade. Full
shade, dappled shade, to part shade.
Frog fruit (Phyla nudiflora)flowers of this low (3 to 4 inch) growing
member of the verbena family are small but worth mentioning because
butterflies just love them! This aggressive spreading groundcover
is great for problem areas since it will grow in any soil, wet or
dry, anywhere in the state. Full shade, dappled shade to part shade.
Pidgeonberry (Rivina humilis) is another great bird plant. The
short (12 to 18 inch) perennial native sports pink blossoms and
clusters of bright red berries from spring to fall. Pidgeonberry
is at home in all parts of Texas. Grow it in well drained soils
in dappled to part shade.
Lyre leaf sage (Salvia lyrata) While most of our native salvias
will grow in partial shade, this one likes it all the way into deep
shade. Beautiful evergreen leaves are streaked with purple highlights.
Pale blue flowers are held on short (generally less than 12 inches)
spikes in early spring. In most parts of the state this salvia will
grow in any soil in full to part shade.
Cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana) is another salvia that is made for
shade. Cedar sage is named for its habit of growing under cedar
trees where few other plants can survive. The bright red flower
spikes are especially visible in dark places. The plant will be
evergreen in most parts of the state. Height is generally about
one to two feet. Full to part shade.
Violets (Viola spp.) are old favorites, but did you know that there
are several species of violets that are native to Texas? Visit nearby
wooded areas to discover the ones that live closest to you. Full
to part shade.
Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)is another well known plant but once
again we need to rely on native species if we want to have better
chances at success. Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is found
in the wooded areas of our Texas hill country. There are several
yellow columbines (notably A. chrysantha, A. hinckleyana, A. longissima,
and A. chaplinei) that are native to the mountainous areas of the
Trans-Pecos. All of these columbines will hybridize freely and named
cultivars can be found in local nurseries. Native columbines are
among the most spectacular spring bloomers we can use in deeply
shaded areas. Shade, dappled shade or part shade.
Fall aster (Aster oblongifolius) is found pretty much throughout
the state and is one of the more spectacular fall blooming perennials.
Blue to lavender daisies with yellow centers cover the plant profusely
from September until the onset of winter. Shade, dappled shade,
or part shade.
Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) is usually found on rocky hillsides,
and this evergreen wildflower will tolerate dappled to partial shade.
Winecup blooms best in late spring. The brilliant magenta blooms
are excellent mixed with other flowers. The plant itself is less
than six inches tall and can be grown throughout the state.
Golden groundsel (Senecio obovatus) is a spreading groundcover
with bright yellow daisy blooms. The foliage stays low (3-4")
while the blooms are held above at 12". Golden groundsel will
bloom throughout the spring months. The foliage is evergreen in
full, dappled, or part shade.
Mistflower (Eupatorium spp.) is also called wild ageratum or boneset
in different parts of the state. Flowers are generally either white
or blue with the most spectacular bloom occurring in the fall. Several
native species of mistflower can be found throughout Texas. Most
plants will average about two feet tall while some species may grow
to over four feet. The nectar of these plants is favored by all
butterflies. This is a "must have" plant for the butterfly
enthusiast for shade, dappled shade, or part shade.
Guara (Guara lindheimeri), also called pink butterfly, sports attractive
pink, white, or pink and white blooms that resemble small butterflies.
Guara blooms well in spring, summer, and fall depending on seasonal
rainfall. The 2 to 3 foot plant will adapt to most parts of the
state and will grow in any soil. It prefers the gumbo clay of the
eastern and central prairies. Dappled to part shade.
Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis) with its bright red flower spikes
are a favorite of hummingbirds. Usually about two feet tall, this
plant can bloom spring, summer, and fall and can be found in all
parts of the state growing in wet places. Shade, dappled shade or
Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa),only found growing wild in east Texas,
will adapt to much of the state. It likes wet feet, so a moist shady
location is preferred. Also called bergamot, this plant can colonize
by rhizomes. Averaging 2 to 3' tall, the fragrant leaves and white,
pink, or lavender flowers are worth it. Dappled to part shade.
Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a semi-woody shrub found in
western Texas.This showy cousin to the hibiscus doesn't mind a little
shade. The 2" pink blossoms occur in profusion from late spring
through fall. Rock rose averages 2 to 3' tall and spreads to 6'
in its native habitat. However it may respond to wetter climates
by getting quite large. Give it room and keep it dry! Dappled to
Gulf penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) There are many species of penstemon
across our state and most will adapt to partial shade, but Gulf
penstemon seems to prefer it. Beautiful blue flowers on 18"
spikes occur in spring. The evergreen foliage remains attractive
year round. Dappled to part shade.
Louisiana blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) is native to east Texas
and made for shade.This low growing phlox does best in dappled shade
for early spring color. Then rely on its cousin fragrant phlox (P.
pilosa) for pink blooms later.
Obedient plant (Physotegia spp.) There are at least ten species
of physotegia native to Texas. Most are found in wet places, but
some can tolerate dry conditions as well. Obedient plants can bloom
in spring, summer, or fall with showy flower spikes in blue, pink,
lavender, or white. Fall obedient plant (P. virginiana) is a favorite
for many gardeners and one of the most versatile species. Obedient
plants will form colonies from underground rhizomes in dappled or
Mexican petunia (Ruellia spp.) is another perennial that has many
native species from the low growing creeping ruellia (R. malacosperma)
to the named variety "Katies" dwarf ruellia (R. brittoniana)
up to taller species like Ruellia nudiflora. The name Mexican petunia
comes from the close resemblance that the flowers have to the common
annual petunia. Colors range from lavender or purple to pink or
white. The bloom period generally begins in spring and can last
until late fall. Mexican petunias do well in dappled to part shade.
Simpson's rosinweed (Silphium simsonii) is a bright yellow daisy
that will grow in shade. Simpson's rosinweed looks a lot like our
native sunflower only shorter. The bloom period, also like its relative
sunflower, is during the heat of summer when most plants tend to
go dormant. Hard to find in the nursery trade, but worth it. Simpson's
rosinweed is made for shade.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) is found nearly throughout
the state. They can be seen holding their unique blue to lavender
flowers above elegant grassy foliage. There are several named varieties
of tradescantia in the nursery trade. Of course your local native
will be the best choice for your particular area. Spiderwort will
average about 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall and bloom from spring to early
summer in dappled to part shade.
Zexmenia (Wedelia hispida) is a native of south, central, and west
Texas and looks like the kind of plant that would require full sun.
This semi woody perennial has a compact growth habit (generally
2' tall by 4' wide) that makes it appealing as a shrub planting.
The yellow one inch daisies can appear from spring though fall and
at times will be so profuse they cover the plant entirely. Although
it flowers better with more sun, zexmenia does well in dappled to
These are just a few blooming plants that love shade. If we were to include woody shrubs, vines, and grasses, the list of shade plants could go on and on. Take a walk in the woods and observe nature's bounty. Then visit your local native plant nurseries and put some color in your shade garden!
Paul Dowlearn is owner of Wichita Valley Nursery in Wichita Falls,
host of a local radio show, and active in the Native Plant Society.