University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
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
• 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
• 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.