49 Plants That Will Grow Underneath Almost Any Tree

Are you trying to find the perfect plants to grow under the trees in your yard or garden? Finding the right plant that can tolerate a little shade and not compete with your trees for nutrients can be difficult. In this article, we look at our favorite plants that can grow quite well under just about any type of tree in your yard or garden!

plants for under trees

Fairytale-like in their natural beauty, shade gardens offer understated elegance and pastoral quaintness to any landscaping plan. They are lush, verdant, and often quite prosperous, as most of the plant life comes from forests and woodlands far removed from regular human contact.

There’s nothing more disappointing for the aspiring woodland gardener than working tirelessly to sow flowers, shrubs, and grasses only to find that their plant choices require more sun to thrive. Fortunately, nature is bounteous with plants that grow under trees!

From the jolly scent of Wintergreen to the spritely sprigs of English Bluebells, you can create a dreamy sylvan wonderland underneath your trees. There’s plenty of shade-loving perennials, annuals, and shade tolerant ground covers, with plenty of blooms to welcome in spring. Let’s dig in a little further so you can discover 51 examples of flora and fronds that will thrive under your arboreal canopy!

Alpine Currant

Ribes alpinum
Alpine Currant produces scarlet edible berries and laced leaves.
Scientific Name: Ribes alpinum
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Northern Europe and Russia
  • Plant Size: 3’-6’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 2-7

With its cheerful, scarlet berries and finely laced trilobed leaves, Alpine Currant is all the joy of the holiday season in a compact shrub. It’s excellent in hedges and borders, particularly in yards with an extensive overhead canopy of shade trees, as Ribes alpinum seems to thrive regardless of soil, sunlight, or moisture levels.

It’s also a visual delight, regardless of season, with richly-pigmented, glossy green leaves in the summer that transition to a warm golden tone in the fall. Budding arborists should remember that only the female shrubs produce berries, which emerge midsummer.

Baltic Parsley

Cenolophium denudatum
Baltic Parsley blooms with small creamy flowers that are collected in charming umbrella-shaped domes.
Scientific Name: Cenolophium denudatum
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe and Asia
  • Plant Size: 3’-4’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-9

Though Baltic Parsley appears to be an airy, gauzy herb, it’s incredibly hardy and produces a bounty of umbrella-shaped domes consisting of ivory-colored flowers. These charming little umbrels are shade-loving and maintain their blooms throughout the summer and fall.

In addition to its beauty, Baltic Parsley is highly regarded for its tendency to self-seed vigorously and its carefree attitude towards sunlight, soil conditions, and drought. It’s also a veritable feast for your local pollinators, attracting droves of butterflies while in bloom.

Barrenwort

Epimedium wishanense
Barrenwort is an excellent shade-tolerant plant that produces glossy leaves that take on a pinkish tinge.
Scientific Name: Epimedium wishanense
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

Barrenwort is a low-maintenance flowering ground cover that’s a great choice for informal underplanting, It creates a low-maintenance but lush carpet of long, lustrous leaves that start out blushed in rose hues before maturing to a stately pear green.

Late spring awakens sprays of buttery yellow florets that cluster together on elegant arches perched high above the foliage.

Bird’s Nest Fern

Asplenium nidus
Bird’s Nest Fern has evergreen large leaves with serrated edges.
Scientific Name: Asplenium nidus
  • Plant Type: Fern
  • Geographic Origin: Hawaii and the Pacific Basin
  • Plant Size: 3’-5’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 11-12

For the gardener needing vegetative texture, the Bird’s Nest Fern offers it in abundance, a fact that helped earn this evergreen beauty the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. The glistening, scalloped-edged leaves feature a twilight-colored midrib that contrasts delightfully against the ever-growing profusion of chartreuse leaves.

Asplenium nidus roots itself to trees in warmer climates, which gardeners should consider when planting under more delicate arboreal varieties.

While it does resist rabbits, it can attract deer, slugs, and leaf nematodes.

Blue Cohosh

Caulophyllum thalictroides
Blue Cohosh blooms with star-shaped reddish-brown flowers in mid-spring.
Scientific Name: Caulophyllum thalictroides
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern and central North America
  • Plant Size: 1’-3’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Blue Cohosh is rather charming, thanks to its sage-colored leaflets that resemble something akin to a frog’s foot. It’s a darling of woodland gardens, happily thriving in soils rich with organic fertilizers in the form of leaf fall.

Its sophisticated beauty peaks in mid-spring, when it blossoms with star-shaped, tawny flowers bedecked with a plump, central stamen dotted in nectar glands frequented by bees. After flowering, it produces dense clusters of blueberries.

Caulophyllum thalictroides will slowly increase its territory via rhizomes, creating jolly colonies of subtle but stunning perennial ground cover when left to its own devices.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Aesculus parviflora
Bottlebrush Buckeye blooms in summer with huge cones of snowy flowers.
Scientific Name: Aesculus parviflora
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Alabama, Georgia, and northern Florida
  • Plant Size: 8’-12’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

Aptly named Bottlebrush Buckeye is an excellent choice for gardeners searching for seasonal vegetal variety that thrives in shady understories. In the summer, it sprouts substantial cones of snowy flowers, each clothed in long, pink filaments dotted with scarlet anthers. Prepare to welcome plenty of hummingbirds!

In the fall, the warm green foliage shifts to a metallic gold with strokes of burgundy along the midrib and veins. These shrubs easily survive chilly winters, so long as they establish roots in moist, but well-drained loamy soil.

Brazilian Plume

Justicia carnea
This is an evergreen shrub that blooms with unusual tubular flowers of bright pink color.
Scientific Name: Justicia carnea
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Brazil
  • Plant Size: 4’-6’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 8-11

The compact Brazilian Plume is an erect, tropical evergreen shrub sporting a coat of pine-colored leaves adorned in a fireworks display of clustered, tubular flowers in warm, festive colors. These Carnival-esque blossoms maintain their spritely color well into the fall.

Justicia carnea is remarkably unfussy about soil conditions, though it does prefer plenty of shade and well-moistened soil.

California Barberry

Berberis pinnata
California Barberry is a showy shade plant that blooms with yellow flowers.
Scientific Name: Berberis pinnata
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Western coast of Canada and the United States
  • Plant Size: 3’-7’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 7-10

Also known as the Wavyleaf Barberry, owing to its holly-like evergreen foliage, Berberis pinnata is a showy shade plant with an all-season charm. Expert early spring pollinators in droves once the heavy-blooming yellow flowers appear, followed by birds galore in the late summer. Winged creatures adore the juicy, midnight blueberries.

This upright shrub is native to thickets and silva, making it ideal for underplanting. It’s also resistant to deer, pests, and disease and will slowly colonize its creepers in organically rich soil.

Carpet Bugle

Ajuga reptans
Carpet Bugle blooms with magnificent flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Scientific Name: Ajuga reptans
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Ireland and Great Britain
  • Plant Size: 4”-8”
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-10

A paradigm of versatility and proliferation in the face of adversity, Carpet Bugle is an eager spreader, creating mats of densely spiraled leaf rosettes in spaces where other grasses won’t take root. It’s quickly gaining popularity as a natural, evergreen alternative to lawn grasses, tree undergrowth, and stone path fillers.

In the late spring and early summer, Ajuga reptans sprouts spikes of candy-colored florets that draw butterflies and hummingbirds. Despite their attraction to pollinators, deer and rabbits aren’t keen on it.

Christmas Rose

Helleborus niger
Christmas Rose grows well in shady places in the garden and requires balanced humidity.
Scientific Name: Helleborus niger
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Southern and central Europe
  • Plant Size: 8”-1’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

The iconic Christmas Rose is an oft-referenced perennial in tales of old due to its seemingly miraculous winter blooming season. It’s an excellent choice for adding pops of elegant brightness to densely shaded landscapes, where the creamy, ivory flowers will self-sow from their halo of golden stamen.

Helleborus niger is also referred to as Hellebore, and prefers just-right moisture levels and may suffer from arrested development in overly dry or waterlogged soil. That said, they aren’t particular about growing in chalk, clay, or loam.

Common Astilboides

Astilboides tabularis
Common Astilboides produce huge green leaves and feathery crests of cream flowers appear in late spring.
Scientific Name: Astilboides tabularis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China
  • Plant Size: 3’-4’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-7

Astilboides tabularis is an architectural showstopper, producing enormous peltate leaves measuring up to three feet across. Each lily pad-shaped frond sprouts from its stem and sports quaint, wavy edges contrasting beautifully against the etched veins. The visual effect is enhanced in late spring as feathery crests of cream flowers spring forth.

While one might assume that such greenery requires plenty of sunshine, Common Astilboides prefers murky bogs, stream banks, and humusy woodlands.

Coralberry

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus
Coralberry produces bright pink berries in summer.
Scientific Name: Symphoricarpos orbiculatus
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern United States and Mexico
  • Plant Size: 2’-5’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 2-7

Bright fuschia berries, olive green leaves, and its hands-off approach to proliferation elevate Coralberry to top billing regarding plants that grow under trees.

Beginning in spring, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus puts on a show with sprays of bell flowers in shades of cream, white, and pink. Summer bears the namesake fruit, providing a buffet of bright berries for visiting woodland creatures. These remain through the fall and winter, creating bursts of lighthearted color in evergreen underbrush.

Coralberry is a low-key option for beginning gardeners, as it will readily take root in a range of soil and stand firm in the face of drought.

Crevice Alumroot

Heuchera micrantha
Crevice Alumroot has leaves with jagged edges of purple and burgundy.
Scientific Name: Heuchera micrantha
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Western Canada and United States
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9

Crevice Alumroot is a distinguished member of the perennial Heuchera family, forming sophisticated mounds of metallic, scallop-edged leaves in luscious shades of purple, maroon, and burgundy. Sprigs of slender stems appear above the foliage in late spring, soon bursting forth with puffs of small, white flowers.

To achieve dense rosettes, gardeners should consider mass planting in dry, shady areas beneath dense tree canopies, where it will draw in butterflies and hummingbirds while in bloom.

Curled Plantain Lily

Hosta crispula
This decorative variant of the hosta has green leaves with a white border around the edges.
Scientific Name: Hosta crispula
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China, Japan, Korea, and Russia
  • Plant Size: 2’-3’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

When it comes to low-maintenance charm, Curled Plantain Lily is at the top of its class. This Hosta variant grows in clumps of ornamental, verdant leaves with wavy, ivory outlines. It’s perfect for bringing pops of color to otherwise dense underbrush. The lavender flowers offer additional visual interest in the early summer.

Hosta crispula plays well with other perennials in shady, fertile soil, though you will need to keep an eye out for deer, rabbits, snails, and other herbivorous interlopers.

Dimpled Trout Lily

Erythronium umbilicatum
Dimpled Trout Lily produces magnificent yellow lily-shaped blossoms.
Scientific Name: Erythronium umbilicatum
  • Plant Type: Bulbed perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Southeastern United States and Appalachia
  • Plant Size: 4”-10”
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9

Known in its native region as Adder’s Tongue or Dog-Tooth Violet, Dimpled Trout Lily is a shade-loving perennial that produces delicate stems capped with sunshiny, lily-shaped blossoms freckled in dark purple.

What it lacks in longevity, it makes up for each spring, when the ephemeral foliage self-sows into clumping colonies before quietly going dormant by the end of May.

They are a well-known favorite amongst plants that grow under trees, as they require year-round shade and humus-rich soil to thrive.

Douglas Mugwort

Artemisia douglasiana
Douglas Mugwort is a fragrant plant that forms a carpet of shaggy stems and silvery foliage.
Scientific Name: Artemisia douglasiana
  • Plant Type: Perennial shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Western United States and Mexico
  • Plant Size: 3’-5’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-10

Douglas Mugwort provides nearly instant gratification for impatient green thumbs, forming a carpet of fragrant, shaggy, clumped stems. The foliage is something to behold, with plush, silvery undersides that release an herbaceous aroma when touched.

The plumes of dishwater grey flowers are rather insubstantial, but that does little to depreciate Artemisia douglasiana’s value in woodland gardens. It propagates via underground rhizomes into a carpet of unfussy ground cover.

Dutchman’s Breeches

Dicentra cucullaria
Dutchman’s Breeches is a perennial plant that blooms with white flowers in the shape of an inverted pair of pants.
Scientific Name: Dicentra cucullaria
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 6”-1’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

This quirky, ephemeral perennial produces rows of white flowers shaped like tiny, upside-down pairs of puffy-legged pants that nod from leafless stems. The bottom sprouts curled yellow petals that look rather dainty in contrast to the fringed foliage.

Dutchman’s Breeches is a quintessential addition to shady silva and cottage gardens, adding joyous, though short-lasting, flora that is sure to delight. It’s also native to North America, making it a great native wildflower option for gardeners that prefer only native plants.

Dwarf Scouring Rush

Equisetum scirpoides
Dwarf Scouring Rush is a versatile ornamental ground cover that grows well in shade and moist soil.
Scientific Name: Equisetum scirpoides
  • Plant Type: Ornamental grass
  • Geographic Origin: Northern Europe, Asia, and North America
  • Plant Size: 6”-10”
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-10

While those with ophidiophobia may want to avoid Dwarf Scouring Rush, reptile-loving arborists will find the tangles of snaking perennial reeds are versatile ornamental groundcover for wet soil and full shade.

Each contorted stem has black-banded nodes that open into tiny, cone-shaped heads closely resembling the color and texture of a toasted marshmallow.

Equisetum scirpoides colonizes in ideal conditions and assists in erosion prevention in the boggy soil along tree-lined lakeshores.

Eastern Hay-Scented Fern

Dennstaedtia punctilobula
Eastern Hay-Scented Fern prefers to grow in the shade under trees.
Scientific Name: Dennstaedtia punctilobula
  • Plant Type: Fern
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Deciduous Eastern Hay-Scented Fern is a distinctive plant that will grow under trees as it grows into ornamental mounds of gossamer, divided fronds that can reach 30 inches in length. It produces a sweet scent when the fronds are dried, a factor that contributes to their prevalence in cut flower arrangements.

Dennstaedtia punctilobula, like most ferns, is happiest in the woodland shade, where it grows into a hardy ground cover in even the most adverse of soil conditions. It does tend to attract deer, but rabbits, pests, and diseases are a nonissue.

Elk Clover

Aralia californica
Elk Clover produces clusters of inky berries after the greenish flowers have faded.
Scientific Name: Aralia californica
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Pacific Northwest region of the United States
  • Plant Size: 6’-10’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 7-9

Lush, prolific, and abundant Elk Clover is a deciduous perennial with abundant, richly-pigmented foliage and brushes of green-tinted pollinator flowers in the early summer. After the blossoms die off in the late summer, juicy clumps of inky berries adorn blushing stalks.

This stunner does best at the woodland borders, where they find a nice balance of partial shade and shelter from damaging wind gusts. They favor acidic or neutral soils consisting of clay, sand, or loam.

English Bluebells

Hyacinthoides non-scripta
English Bluebells are charming little bell-shaped flowers that prefer to grow in the shade of woodland canopies.
Scientific Name: Hyacinthoides non-scripta
  • Plant Type: Bulbed perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Western Europe
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-10

It’s hard not to fall in love with the pastoral charm of the English Bluebell’s gently curled, erect leaves and bowing inflorescence of bell-shaped, indigo blossoms that seem to hang their heads solemnly despite their lively colors.

They offer low-maintenance beauty, particularly when spread en masse in the shade of woodland canopies.

Interestingly, the UK has recently taken measures to increase its native Bluebell population, as the hybridization between English Bluebells and Spanish Bluebells has all but taken over the original’s natural habitat.

Evening Bells

Bergenia ‘Abendglocken’
Evening Bells is a shade-loving evergreen plant that blooms with pink bellflowers.
Scientific Name: Bergenia ‘Abendglocken’
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Hybrid cultivated in Germany
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

Festive Evening Bells are a gardener’s dream, when it comes to bold, unfussy plants that grow under trees. The waxy bustles of flowers are painted in burgundy at the base of the bell, with bubble gum pink petals jauntily peeking over the lip.

The leathery leaves shift from green to a coordinating rich red in the winter, providing much need color amongst other shade-loving evergreens. So long as their beds stay well-moistened, gardeners can let these flamboyant flowers flourish independently.

Florida Hobblebush

 Agarista populifolia
Florida Hobblebush has unusual white flowers that will serve as a decorative accent in any shady garden.
Scientific Name: Agarista populifolia
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina
  • Plant Size: 8’-12’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 7-9

Versatile Florida Hobblebush is an easygoing evergreen with bowed branches that seemingly drip with long, lance-shaped leaves and colorful plumes of tawny orange buds that open to reveal elongated, tubular flowers. While not particularly attractive to pollinators, they serve as an ornamental pop of color.

As a Florida native, Hobblebush is quite tolerant of flooding but does require rich, acidic soil to thrive. This hardy shrub will spread up to 6 feet across if left unpruned.

Italian Arum

Arum italicum
This is an incredibly unusual plant that produces jewel-like blood orange berries in summer.
Scientific Name: Arum italicum
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

Fans of large-leafed, ornamental plants like Elephant Ears will find Italian Arum’s broad, shapely foliage hard to resist. The plant is an early-emerging perennial, producing a curled-petal flower that closely resembles the Peace Lily.

The petals cup a tall, yellow rod that explodes into jewel-like blood orange berries in the summer. Gardeners can strip away the fruit and resow the seeds to encourage their spread further.

Arum italicum, also called Italian Lords and Ladies, is a hands-off plant that will grow under trees or in partial shade and are notably sturdy in the face of flooding, poor soil conditions, disease, and insects.

Jack in the Pulpit

Arisaema triphyllum
Jack in the Pulpit prefers well-mulched soil and a shady spot in the garden.
Scientific Name: Arisaema triphyllum
  • Plant Type: Bulbed perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9

Jack in the Pulpit is a genuinely strange perennial, appearing more like an exotic, carnivorous plant than something you’d find in the forest. This so-called “Bog Onion” may be an acquired taste for some. Still, budding botanists will likely find the charming pinstripes, cup-shaped flower, and hermaphroditic nature of Arisaema triphyllum irresistible.

To ensure the ongoing vitality of the species, Arisaema triphyllum begins as male flowers in their first year. They are female the following year, allowing them to self-pollinate and reseed. They continue to switch back and forth for their entire lives. The glistening berries that develop along the inner spadix further encourage animal pollination.

With a single planting, Jack in the Pulpit will proliferate quickly, creating communities of up to a dozen plants in well-mulched, well-shaded soil. Once established, they prefer to be left undisturbed.

Japanese Spurge

Pachysandra terminalis
Japanese Spurge is an evergreen plant that blooms in spring with white flowers.
Scientific Name: Pachysandra terminalis
  • Plant Type: Perennial shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Japan
  • Plant Size: 3”-4”
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

Monochromatic Japanese Spurge is a shrubby conglomeration of spreading runners and dense foliage, ideal for adding subtle volume to thinning undergrowth. It does take on a briefly-flowering plume of white petals in the spring, but the evergreen foliage is the true superstar of Pachysandra terminalis.

Spurge requires very little, making a home in any soil with low light exposure. It grows well along slopes, aiding in erosion prevention in areas where frequent rainfall tends to wash away topsoil.

Lily of the Valley

Convallaria majalis
Lily of the Valley is a woodland darling, that produces drooping stems of fragrant bell-shaped flowers.
Scientific Name: Convallaria majalis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 6”-1’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 2-7

With the charming nickname of “Mugget” to accompany its delightfully spherical blossoms adorned in a ruffled skirt, Lily of the Valley is a woodland perennial ground cover.

While it only blooms for a few weeks in mid-spring, the bowing stems of fragrant flowers are well worth the effort of planting, given its longevity and stately, light green fluted fronds.

Lily of the Valley is as easygoing as it is adorable, creating a gorgeous ground cover when allowed to self-seed in shady, moist soil. Make sure to do your research to make sure Lily of the Valley is ok to grow in your location. It can be considered invasive in certain regions, which may prevent you from adding it to your garden.

Ocean Spray

Holodiscus discolor
Ocean Spray blooms with stunning creamy airy flowers.
Scientific Name: Holodiscus discolor
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Western United States and Canada
  • Plant Size: 3’-20’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-9

True to its name, Ocean Spray is a woody-stemmed shrub that produces a showstopping drift of cream-colored, airy flowers that completely shroud the white-bellied, green foliage from late spring to late summer. After blooming, Holodiscus discolor becomes a picnic of caramel-colored berries beloved by birds.

This easy grower is drought-tolerant, shade-loving, and requires only a bit of autumn pruning to keep it plush and shapely. They’re also an invaluable source of sugary nectar for butterflies, and you’ll frequently see them dropping by for a midday snack.

Partridge Berry

Mitchella repens
Partridge Berry is a semi-shrub that has creeping woody stems that take root wherever they touch the ground.
Scientific Name: Mitchella repens
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America, southeastern Canada, and Guatemala
  • Plant Size: 1”-2”
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Due to its ground-hugging height, Partridge Berry is considered a subshrub, as it spreads outward rather than upward. The creeping woody stems root wherever they touch the ground, ensuring a hardy shade-loving ground cover with plenty of aesthetic beauty.

In the warmer seasons, the glossy green foliage creates a stunning contrast to the frosty sprays of tiny, blushed flowers. However, winter reveals the Partridge Berry’s most stunning seasonal form as plump, cardinal red berries emerge.

Birds and small, herbivorous mammals will appreciate the holiday feast, and you’ll enjoy seeing them scurry about, further helping your Partridge Berry thrive.

Pocketbook Plant

Calceolaria herbeohybrida group
Pocketbook Plant requires cool temperatures and moist, well-drained soil.
Scientific Name: Calceolaria herbeohybrida group
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Central and South America
  • Plant Size: 6”-1’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 10-11

Typically, the tropical Pocketbook Plant is a colorful houseplant, as the slipper-shaped blossoms in citrusy colors are genuinely something to behold. They grow in corymbs that sit astride veined, richly verdant leaves.

For the experienced gardener looking for a challenge in zones 10-11 – this high-maintenance beauty can add perennial splendor to dappled treelines. It requires cool temperatures ranging from 45-60°F, moderate humidity, and well-drained but moist soil, so be prepared to spend some time setting up your bed.

Queen Cup

Clintonia uniflora
Queen Cup produces an exquisite cream-colored flower.
Scientific Name: Clintonia uniflora
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Western North America
  • Plant Size: 6”-10”
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

Neither flashy nor homely, Queen Cup offers a unique combination of large, arching leaves surrounding a single, sophisticated blossom with six ivory-white petals. The bloom doesn’t last long before producing sea glass-colored berries favored by prairie birds.

The Queen Cup is incredibly long-lived, lasting up to three decades in ideal conditions, which include slightly acid or neutral soil and plenty of shade. They require a patient hand, as the seedlings often take 3-4 years before producing a flower.

Red Osier Dogwood

Cornus sericea
This plant requires minimal care and will adapt to any soil and sunlight.
Scientific Name: Cornus sericea
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: North America, except the lower midwest and southern coastal regions
  • Plant Size: 6’-9’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Red Osier Dogwood is a quick-growing deciduous shrub that adapts beautifully to any soil and sun exposure. It’s a visually stunning undergrowth ornament, as the tall, reed-like stems go utterly bald at the end of summer and transition to rich golden burgundy through the winter.

This colorful display more than makes up for the lack of showy flowers, which may or may not appear in the spring. After blooming, clusters of white berries with contrasting violet stems emerge.

Cornus sericea requires very little hands-on care but will colonize if you fail to remove the suckers. It’s also attractive to deer, who may strip away the bark, leaving the more sensitive interior wood prone to damage and disease.

Sand Myrtle

Kalmia buxifolia
Sand Myrtle blooms with magnificent star-shaped creamy white flowers.
Scientific Name: Kalmia buxifolia
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Southeastern United States
  • Plant Size: 6”-3’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-8

The positively gorgeous Sand Myrtle explodes into succulent-like mounds of plump, highly glossy leaves with light touches of brown or cream along the outer ridge. They are a delightful late spring bloomer when they produce clumps of star-shaped, creamy white flowers on a backdrop of unopened rose pink buds.

Showy and evergreen, Sand Myrtle is a must-have amongst plants that grow under trees, particularly for those trying to naturalize their lawn or form short, compact hedge borders.

Sand Myrtle is sensitive to harsh winds, dry air, and frost. To elongate their life, be sure to provide plenty of root mulch to protect them from cold snaps and help the soil with moisture retention.

Shallon

Gaultheria shallon
Shallon blooms with cup-shaped light pink flowers in spring.
Scientific Name: Gaultheria shallon
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: British Columbia to California
  • Plant Size: 4’-10’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-8

Shallon, or Oregon Evergreen, produces masses of multi-branching stems and glossy leaves, providing an incredibly dense carpet of evergreen undergrowth. Bouncy axils of cup-shaped light pink flowers appear in the spring, followed by a harvest of tasty, navy-colored berries in the late summer.

Gaultheria shallon will lazily spread under the tree canopy, forming dense thickets if left to proliferate on its own. To prevent overgrowth, gardeners should prune back the foliage at the end of the flowering season.

Shooting Star

Dodecatheon meadia
These gorgeous, star-shaped purple blooms make a great addition to your shady garden.
Scientific Name: Dodecatheon meadia
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern and central North America
  • Plant Size: 9”-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

Perky candy-colored flowers, mahogany stems, and pale green leaves come together into a delightful pastel option for plants that grow under trees, the Shooting Star.

When first in bloom, the petals drape towards the ground but reach towards the sky following pollination, creating an attractive late spring display.

As a native to windswept prairies and meadows, Dodecathon meadia is notoriously low-maintenance and will cheerfully colonize any well-drained soul. Despite its short-lived flowering season, it’s a worthwhile guest to any naturalized, shady yard.

Siberian Spring Beauty

Claytonia sibirica
Siberian Spring Beauty is a perennial that blooms in mid-spring with lavender or pink flowers.
Scientific Name: Claytonia sibirica
  • Plant Type: Annual or perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Siberia and western North America
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-10

Siberian Spring Beauty is a harbinger of winter’s end in the harsh Arctic climate of Siberia and Alaska. It’s long been a vitamin C-rich salad green for natives of the area, including miners staving off scurvy during the California gold rush.

In addition to its edible foliage, this versatile perennial features mid-spring blooms of notch-petaled lavender or pink flowers dotted with lime green stamen at the center. They aren’t picky about their beds, so long as they remain moist and will spread moderately as undergrowth ground cover.

Small-Flowered Foxglove

Digitalis parviflora
Small-Flowered Foxglove has incredibly dense pyramidal inflorescences consisting of rich chocolate brown flowers.
Scientific Name: Digitalis parviflora
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Northern and central Spain
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

With the sheer variety available from the Digitalis genus, most of which do well in the shade, gardeners are faced with an abundance of brightly colored options. For a more subtle and sophisticated approach, though, Small-Flowered Foxglove offers dense, pyramidal spires of rich, chocolate brown flowers accented in velvety shades of mahogany.

Small-Flowered Foxgloves thrive in smaller clusters planted in humus-rich soil that maintains a moderate moisture level.

Those with curious children or pets should be very careful, as all parts of the plant are highly toxic to dogs, cats, horses, and humans. Plant far from play areas and walkways to prevent accidental contact.

Spice Bush

Lindera benzoin
In spring, bunches of yellow flowers appear on the branches of this Spice Bush.
Scientific Name: Lindera benzoin
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 6’-12’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9

Like Virginia Witch Hazel, the Spice Bush is an easy-going shrub that extends its season of interest well into autumn. The branches come to life starting in spring when they produce puffs of pale yellow flowers.

The leaves emerge later, along with plump, bright red berries on the female plants. These provide a post-summer delight for squirrels, birds, and other forest dwellers.

Both the foliage and berries are spicily aromatic when crushed or bruised, hence the name. Gardeners should allow these charming fall shrubs to take root in dappled shade, where the soil is slightly acidic and well-drained.

Spotted Wintergreen

Chimaphila maculata
Spotted Wintergreen blooms with waxy pale pink flowers.
Scientific Name: Chimaphila maculata
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America and Panama
  • Plant Size: 6”-1’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-8

Slender-stemmed Spotted Wintergreen is a widespread native of woodland areas, emerging from underground rhizomes with lance-shaped leaves and waxy, pale pink flowers. These nodding beauties self-sow by producing lightweight pods.

Climaphila maculata prefers dry soil, where it can establish small cloisters of summer-blooming sister plants. They are ideal for adding year-round color under trees and shrubs but do little in the way of attracting pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Squirrel Corn

Dicentra canadensis
Squirrel Corn has beautiful lacy finger-like foliage and produces heart-shaped white flower clusters.
Scientific Name: Dicentra canadensis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern and central North America
  • Plant Size: 8”-1’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-7

Tuberous Squirrel Corn brings textural interest to shaded areas with its lacy, finger-like foliage that creates an elegant, arching backdrop for the plant’s heart-shaped flower clusters.

These porcelain-colored beauties drop uncountable numbers of self-propagating seeds in their short blooming season, which will emerge alongside the parent in the early spring.

Squirrel Corn is an easy-going plant that will grow under trees so long as the soil is moist and fertile. It creates short-lived ground cover in the mid-late spring but goes dormant in the summer heat.

Strawberry Begonia

Saxifraga stolonifera
Strawberry Begonia grows in shady places on a wide variety of soil types.
Scientific Name: Saxifraga stolonifera
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China, Japan, and Korea
  • Plant Size: 6”-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-9

Strawberry Begonia– a misnomer, as it is not a Begonia– is another Plant of Merit, and once you lay eyes on its melon-striped broadleaves and orchid-like flowers, it’s easy to see why.

The evergreen leaves are large and round, covered in silver webs of color that stretch from the midrib to the blushed outer ridge. In the early summer, pink-petaled flowers spring forth on high-reaching stems. Their exciting shape, fuschia freckles, and pink-flecked anthers are accented with a golden flush at the throat.

Saxifraga stolonifera, a name that originates from their ability to self-sow via stolons, beds down in shaded areas, spreading over several years through a wide range of soil types.

Summersweet

Clethra alnifolia
Summersweet is an incredibly fragrant plant that produces white flowers and serrated glossy leaves.
Scientific Name: Clethra alnifolia
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: East coast of the United States to eastern Texas
  • Plant Size: 3’-8’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Summersweet is a jack of all trades amongst plants that grow under trees, offering a rich aroma, bushy plumes of white flowers, and serrated, shiny leaves that sit perkily on the tips of woody stems. It tolerates a range of conditions that many other plants would detest, including moisture-retentive soil consisting of clay, salt, and sand.

To see it at its most beautiful, though, plant in well-drained, shaded soil where it’s free to establish colonies of delightful flowering shrubs.

Swamp Pink

Helonias bullata
Swamp Pink requires swampland soil and a shady spot in the garden.
Scientific Name: Helonias bullata
  • Plant Type: Bulbed perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern United States
  • Plant Size: 10”-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-8

The bustling flowerheads of Swamp Pink are solo performers, sprouting bold and bright rosettes atop fleshy, reddish-green stems at the first sign of warmer weather. It’s shockingly adorable, with florets of narrow, pointed petals interspersed with baby blue anthers.

Due to its need for boggy, swampland soil, it’s an excellent ornamental blossom for moisture-retentive peat or sand. It adores the shade of a tree canopy, growing to an impressive 16 inches tall despite its rather unusual habitat.

Toothed Busy Lizzie

Impatiens Arguta
Toothed Busy Lizzie is an evergreen plant that produces unusually shaped lilac-blue flowers with golden flecks.
Scientific Name: Impatiens arguta
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, and Myanmar
  • Plant Size: 1’-2’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 7-10

Tough-as-nails Toothed Busy Lizzie is an impatiens, and it proliferates as an underplanting. It creates cozy communities of evergreen vegetation that cascades with drifts of horn-shaped lilac-blue flowers speckled in gold. It is a substantial perennial that resists pests and diseases.

Novice gardeners will find Toothed Busy Lizzie a satisfactory starter plant, as its preferences for soil type and pH are nonexistent. It also doesn’t require pruning and remains radiant through the winter in warmer climates.

Virginia Chain Fern

Woodwardia virginica
Virginia Chain Fern is a great decorative addition to your shady garden.
Scientific Name: Woodwardia virginica
  • Plant Type: Fern
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 2’-3’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-10

The feathery, erect fronds of the Virginia Chain Fern are an attractive addition to heavily-shaded landscaping, particularly in the summer when they develop fuzzy spore chains on the underside. In the spring, the fronds are coppery, turning medium green in the summer and golden in the fall.

Woodwardia virginica is an incredibly adaptable example of plants that grow under trees, as their spores will bed down in boggy clay, sand, or loam, conditions typically unsuitable for other plant life.

This makes it an ideal specimen for hesitant beginners who want to ensure their first attempts at establishing a shade garden are fruitful.

Virginian Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana
Virginian Witch Hazel produces yellow delicate and very fragrant flowers.
Scientific Name: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern Canada, midwestern and eastern United States
  • Plant Size: 15’-20’
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Virginian Witch Hazel, also known as the Spotted Alder, is a fall showcase piece that produces spindly, aromatic flowers resembling bursts of yellow fireworks.

These crinkled petals grow directly on the branches and last well into winter. The foliage brings seasonal interest, transitioning from light green to dark green in the summer, followed by honey-yellow leaves in autumn.

Hamamelis virginiana prefers moist beds along streams in its natural habitat, but with a bit of coaxing, it can adapt to dry or clay-heavy soil in woodland gardens. Prune in March or April, once the flowers have died, to maintain their shrubbery size, as they can reach up to 20 feet in height.

Wild Strawberry

Fragaria vesca
Wild Strawberry produces ruby red fruits.
Scientific Name: Fragaria vesca
  • Plant Type: Fruit
  • Geographic Origin: Temperate regions in the northern hemisphere
  • Plant Size: 3”-9”
  • Sun Exposure: Full-partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

Is there anything more delightful than a wild strawberry plant? From its abundance of toothed leaves to its dainty white flowers that bear crops of ruby red, yellow-flecked fruit, it is a treasure amongst woodland-native plants that grow under trees.

Expect compact mounds of foliage and a prolonged summer harvest so long as Fragaria vesca roots in fertile, shady soil. You’ll need to watch for leaf spots, powdery mildew, and aphids, but the fruits of your labor are well worth the work.

Wintergreen

Gaultheria procumbens
Wintergreen has variegated leathery leaves and round crimson berries.
Scientific Name: Gaultheria procumbens
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: United States and Canada
  • Plant Size: 3”- 6”
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Wintergreen, a short, evergreen shrub, is sure to bring a smile to any woodland gardener. The variegated, leathery leaves and plump, crimson berries spread cheerfully in shady areas, creating a 3-6 inch ground cover of richly aromatic foliage. Its chipper appearance and easygoing personality earned it the Award of Garden Merit.

If you love to see overwintering birds and small mammals in your yard, Wintergreen is an excellent option. The edible fruit is a prized food source amongst forest wildlife.

Yellow Jewelweed

Impatiens pallida
Yellow Jewelweed is propagated by seed pods.
Scientific Name: Impatiens pallida
  • Plant Type: Annual
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 2’- 5’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Despite its name, aligning Yellow Jewelweed with the likes of other garden interlopers like Crabgrass and Dandelion is almost an insult to its beauty. The nodding flowers are a visual delight, draped like elegant fabric at the tips of impossibly slender stems. To add to the overall effect, brown dapples adorn the throat of the nectar-rich curled petals.

Yellow Jewelweed is an exemplary self-seeder, as it propagates with seamed seed pods that readily burst and take root in shady, fertile soil.

Final Thoughts

Woodland and cottage gardens are increasingly popular with naturalist gardeners. Of course, this landscape aesthetic requires beautiful trees coupled with shade-loving undergrowth.

To ensure success, beginners should spend time reading about their specific USDA Hardiness Zone and tips for understanding soil types. Even the most easy-going shade lovers have requirements to ensure they stay safe from fungus, garden pests, and malnutrition.

More experienced gardeners should take the opportunity to experiment with a woefully-underused artform that demands trading out your everyday roses and hydrangeas for exotic grasses and prairie flowers. Hopefully, with the help of this list, you’ve discovered a few plants that grow under trees that you’re eager to add to your gardening to-do list. Enjoy!

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