Specimen Natives for Your Woodland

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Who says our native mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, is not as ornamental as the Asian versions?

This is the last in a three-part series of posts dealing with native plants for mid-Atlantic U.S. gardens.  In the first, Your Native Woodland, I explained how easy it is to create your own native woodland garden by choosing plants that spread aggressively.  In the second, Native Phlox for Your Garden, I profiled some of the wonderful members of the genus Phlox, all native to eastern North America and Pennsylvania in particular.  Here I am going to suggest some superstar native plants to place between the spreaders recommended in the first post.

Double bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’, just might be my all time favorite flower, and it thrives in my woodland.

Let’s face it: none of us avid gardeners (and collectors) are going to be happy limiting ourselves to the seven spreading  plants that I recommended in my previous post for colonizing a woodland.  Although the gardening books seem to think we have moist, loamy soil in our woods, we don’t (where do these people garden anyway?).  So what other plants can stand up to the root-filled, dry, rocky, clay soil prevalent in the woods of the mid-Atlantic?  You will be happy to know there are many, and the plants shown below just scratch the surface.  I have personally tested each one, and killed many others, so I know they work.

White trillium, T. grandiflorum, is one of the many native trilliums that thrive in my woodland.

Sweet Betsy, Trillium cuneatum, also does well as do prairie trillium, T. recurvatum, and yellow trillium, T. luteum.  Although I usually do not water my woodland, I find that trilliums benefit from watering in drought conditions.

Dogtooth violet, Erythronium ‘Pagoda’, is a hybrid of two North American species.  ‘Pagoda’ seeds around my woodland, and this is one of its seedlings.

The single-flowered bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is quite lovely too.  Both it and ‘Multiplex’, pictured above, have spread into large patches.

Large-flowered bellwort, Uvularia grandiflora, has very unusual yellow flowers.  Shown here with British Columbia wild-ginger, Asarum caudatum, native to the U.S. west coast.

My woodland wouldn’t be complete without mayapples with their beautifully patterned, umbrella-like leaves, incredibly fragrant flowers, and “apples” in May.  However, they do spread quite quickly and are better used as one of the colonizing plants in my first post—give them room.

Every woodland needs lots of ferns!  Pictured here is cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, but I also have Christmas, royal, and ostrich ferns in my woods, among others.  In the flood plain down by my creek, ostrich fern has successfully out competed my nemesis, the incredibly invasive, non-native Japanese knotweed.  In drier woods, ostrich fern’s spreading tendencies are kept in check.

Yellow violet, Viola pubescens, spreads almost as well in my woods as the white violet recommended in my woodland post, and you can’t beat the crayon yellow flowers.


Dutchman’s breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, never fails to bring out the child in me with its little pairs of pants swinging in the breeze.

Large camas, Camassis leichtlinii ‘Caerulea’, is native to western North America not the mid-Atlantic, but it does so well in my woodland that I have included it here.  The large clumps of tall blue flowers line the back of the beds.

Foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia, is a star of my woodland garden with its wonderful fragrance, interesting leaves, and red fall color.  There are many cultivars available, and I recommend choosing a spreading form: cultivars in the “River Series” are particularly vigorous.

One of the loveliest native flowers in my woods is rue-anemone, Anemonella thalictroides (photo used with the permission of Arrowhead Alpines).  It looks so dainty, but it is tough as nails and seeds around freely.

There are many forms of rue-anemone, but my favorite is this luminescent single pink.

You can’t go wrong when you add any of these wonderful native plants to your woodland.  They are ‘tried and true’ in mine!


Commenters have asked for photos showing ” sweeping vistas” of my woods.  It is impossible to take this kind of photo in my woodland and capture the effect of the masses of plants because of the trees.  My woods are filled with 10 to 12′ diameter trees—no panoramic views are possible.  The best I could do was go up on the roof and shoot down, but individual plants are not visible, and I am not happy with the result:

Nursery Happenings: The third annual Great Hosta Blowout where you can order beautiful hostas for a bargain basement price is going on now until April 25.  To see the catalogue, click here.  My third Open House Sale, featuring hostas, ferns, and hardy geraniums, will take place on Saturday, May 12, from 10 am to 3 pm

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Facebook:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post.  You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

45 Responses to “Specimen Natives for Your Woodland”

  1. all the individual plants look beautiful, it would be lovely if you could post an overview showing how the plants grow together and th eeffct they create. Christina

  2. paulinemulligan Says:

    Super post about my favourite sort of plants! Some I have tried, only to have them eaten by slugs, Erythroniums are very happy and spreading nicely. I have never thought to put Camassias in the woodland, I have them in a sunny border, must move some in the autumn, thanks.

  3. Spring is full of surprises; what is where and when in the woods!
    This year mine are absolutely carpeted with trout lilies (Erythronium albidum), while the hardier ferns seem to have been eaten over the winter!

  4. Hi Carolyn… your site is becoming a ‘go to’ for me as I start to try and create areas with the sense of being more woodland like! You may be interested to know that your new Daybreak blooms are likely to hold up better to frost than many other magnolias, at least in my experience. It’s the only blooming specimen that hasn’t suffered considerable frost damage this season in my garden. Of course being in the very late blooming category is a big help also. I am presently awaiting a few ‘1st ever’ buds to open on Rose Marie… which can be described as improved for color and form of blossom, and long bloom period, with Daybreak in its background.

  5. Woodland gardens…one of my favorite topics! Was happy to see that I have all the plants you mention, the only exception being the pink rue anemone…but lots of the white ones. Thanks for a great post, going to go back and read the two previous before I head out to water my trilliums. cheers!

  6. Oh-oh, I love them all! What a bunch of great plants. I have the mayapple and like its umbrella leaves– it’s in a bed of similar pushy woodland groundcovers, ferns and even trillium and they all get along pretty nicely.

  7. Carolyn – That is a beautiful selection. Did you deliberately choose pale flowers because they are highlights in the shade ?

  8. Surprised to not see Jeffersonia on this list.

  9. denisenoniwa Says:

    The leaves of the Podophyllum peltatum are so attractive. I bought one a few years ago but it has disappeared. I have the shade of a woodland garden and the soil of a desert. Your tiarella is also amazing. I didn’t know they were fragrant. I must go in the garden tomorrow to have a sniff.

  10. So many of my personal favorites as always! I love the idea of using ostrich fern as a weed suppressant in boggy areas – I have JUST the right place for some!

  11. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. I have not seen a Mayapple in so long. Thanks for bringing back memories of walking through the woods around the house I grew up in.

  12. There are so many wonderful wonderful plants listed here. Bloodroot is a favourite of mine as is the dog toothed lily. Now you’ve got me thinking about moving my foamflowers into one of our wooded spots and see how they do.

  13. I really like the dogtooth violet and the trillium. They are such uniquely formed plants.

  14. Love them all! I wish I had more land than my little plot so I could have a woodland garden for myself!

  15. Oh, they are all so pretty. And I would have thought that I would have loved the flowering plants the best, but my favorite is the ferns. I just love seeing a bed of ferns.

  16. starprojectadmin Says:

    I LOVE the “Ductchman’s Breeches”….I’ve not ever seen it before. I suspect it may not grow where I am (Boise, ID). I’m looking for something to put into bare patches under pine trees…

    • Lynda, Dutchman’s breeches are very cute. They do go dormant when it gets hot out so they are not an effective groundcover. I don’t have any significant space shaded by evergreens so I am always hesitant to make recommendations for evergreen shade. Carolyn

  17. I so wish my camassia stood up like that. Mine are all droopy and I thought it was because of the shade. Now I’m not sure since yours is in the shade? It sure is a pretty sight.

  18. a superb time of year for shade gardens and yours are such beautiful examples. Think its because not least you have the important structures in place first – the ferns for example. All the blooms are icing on the cake and every one a winner but the ‘Pagoda’ is very special

  19. Wonderful recommendations, Carolyn. I can vouch for most of them, because they’re growing quite well in my woodland garden. I love the double Bloodroot! I have the single Bloodroot in the woods here, but that variety is beautiful!

  20. I am so excited to read this! I grew up decades ago near Hartford and a neighbor taught me to recognize the trillium, dogtooth violet, dutchmen’s breeches and bloodroot growing wild in our woodsy edges. Since then I’ve gardened kind of haphazardly all over the country (CA, NC, NY, NJ) and never thought I could have those. Now in an old shady garden in West Chester, PA I think I have just the spot. Looking forward to introducing some of the others you mention too. Hurray!

  21. deborahelliott Says:

    As always, your post is full of great information and inspirational photos! Just recently someone told me I should add mayapple to my woodland. Now I must agree! Carolyn, your woodland garden must be a wondrous sight with all of these blooms. I wish you would publish some large overviews!

  22. cathywieder Says:

    Always a joy to read your blog! My only regret is that I don’t live closer. I would adore visiting your nursery!

  23. Such beautiful specimens and a wonderful woodland garden. You make it look and seem so easy!

  24. You are showcasing many of my favorites, although I must admit I not had success with some including the mayapple. Try try again.

    • Patty, As you know, what grows in my little microclimate may be totally unsuited to yours for reasons we can’t fathom. That’s why as gardeners we need to accept that plant mortality is part of the story and not a lack in our gardening abilities. I am surprised about the mayapples though. I dig them and sell them to keep them in check. Carolyn

  25. I adore these specimen plants..the double bloodroot and interesting mayapple foliage are gorgeous!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: