En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - May 04, 2014

From: Edwardsville, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Ferns, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Ground cover to control hillside erosion in Illinois
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I have seen some other questions regarding native plants for erosion control, but I am looking specifically for plants that will do well on a hill in partial to full shade. I am told the soil in our area in Southern Illinois has a very high pH also. I have asked around for advice but most people recommend invasive ground covers. Our hill is completely bare right now, so we need something that will take root quickly. Thank you for any advice!


Grasses are an excellent solution for erosion control because of their extensive fibrous root systems.   Most grasses grow best in full sun; however, there are some that will do well in shade and part shade.  Here are some that are native to Illinois.

Andropogon virginicus (Broomsedge bluestem) is noted for its use for erosion control and grows in partial shade and can grow in very acid soils.

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) is an attractive bunch grass that grows in shade and part shade and in soils with pH 5.0 to 7.0.

Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye) grows in sun and part shade with a soil pH range of 5.0 to 7.9.

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye) grows in partial shade and grows in soils of pH 5.0  to 7.4.

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass) grows in sun and part shade with a wide range of soil pH values, from 4.5 to 7.5.

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) grows in sun, part shade and shade.   It will tolerate a wide range of soil pH values, from 5.0 to 7.8.

All the above grasses can grow from 2 to 5 feet tall (even 8 feet tall—Indiangrass).  You could potentially use a variety of them for an interesting appearance.  Sedges are very grass-like and tend to be shorter and of a more even height.  Many of them are evergreen.  Here is one recommended one:

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) is an evergreen sedge that grows in sun, part shade and shade and will grow in very acidic soils from pH 4.4 to 7.0.

You could also add low-growing shrubs to the mix.  Here are a few:

Aralia nudicaulis (Wild sarsaparilla) grows in the shade and prefers acid, sandy soil, pH 5 to 6.

Chimaphila maculata (Striped prince's pine) is a low plant with striped, evergreen leaves that grows well in acidic woods.

Chimaphila umbellata (Pipsissewa) also has evergreen leaves (but without the stripes) and grows in acidic soils, pH 5 to 6.

Ferns and other non-flowering plants that grow in the shade are other good choices:

Lycopodium obscurum (Rare clubmoss), an evergreen, non-flowering plant that grows in the shade and tolerates a wide range of pH values.

All the ferns listed below grow in the shade and in acidic soils.

Athyrium filix-femina (Common ladyfern)

Dryopteris carthusiana (Shield fern)

Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon fern)

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)

If your slope is very steep and bare, you may want to consider erosion-control blankets to stabilize the erosion area so that seeds have a better chance to germinate and become established. The erosion-control fabric works by slowing the runoff water and allowing sediment to fall out rather than be washed away. Seeds are sown under the erosion-control material and grow up through the matting when they germinate. Underneath the matting the roots of the plants growing through the erosion-control material anchor the soil to stop the erosion. If you use erosion-control blankets made of biodegradable material, they will eventually disappear leaving the plants to control the problem. Seeds can be sown under an erosion control blanket or grass plugs and other plants can be planted by cutting holes through the blanket.  This material is available at most nurseries.  In the linked article above from the University of Washington there are descriptions of other erosion control materials that can be used.  Your slope might also benefit from some of the other methods discussed there.

Below are photos from our Image Gallery of some of the recommended plants.


From the Image Gallery

Andropogon virginicus

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Virginia wildrye
Elymus virginicus

Panicum virgatum

Sorghastrum nutans

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis

Striped prince's pine
Chimaphila maculata

Chimaphila umbellata

Rare clubmoss
Lycopodium obscurum

Cinnamon fern
Osmunda cinnamomea

Christmas fern
Polystichum acrostichoides

More Erosion Control Questions

Groundcover plants for slope to prevent erosion
June 05, 2008 - Hi, I have just made a 3/4 acre pond and the south facing slope is too steep to mow.Can you suggest any ground cover plants I could use to look nice and prevent erosion.
view the full question and answer

Getting rid of non-native, invasive English Ivy from Davidsonville MD
March 19, 2014 - Just moved and need to rid the well established Ivy planted on the steep slope area around the back and side of the house as it is taking over the bushes on the top and trees in forested area at botto...
view the full question and answer

Erosion control for slope to detention pond
August 09, 2008 - We have been required by code to build a detention pond for new church buildings in the Webster, TX (Clear Lake) area. There is a serious erosion of soil from water runoff from the building roof need...
view the full question and answer

Erosion control in West Union IA
June 22, 2010 - Erosion control and native grasses/plants for steep, shady slope in northeast Iowa. We are building a house in northeast Iowa (near West Union in Fayette County). The road that was graded to the ho...
view the full question and answer

Plants to prevent riverbank erosion in NY
October 03, 2010 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I'm doing research into riverbank erosion in Broome County, NY, and I was wondering if you had some sort of resource that would be able to tell me which species of grasses...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center