Explore Plants

Share

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
    
 

Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - May 04, 2009

From: Newaygo, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Finding plants to thrive under white pines in Newaygo, MI
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Would you please explain why plants do not grow or grow well under white pines or other evergreens? Are there any ground covers that would thrive under a white pine?

ANSWER:

This is one of our most frequently asked questions: "Why won't anything grown under my (fill in the name of the tree)? If you really want to know what, if anything, will grow under your Pinus strobus (eastern white pine), take a walk in the woods where they grow naturally and see what is growiing under them there. That is probably not a very practical suggestion, so we will try to answer your question. There are several problems with understory plants growing under just about any tree, the first one being the shade of the tree itself. The pine, being evergreen, keeps the ground beneath it pretty well shaded year-round. So, that's Strike One. Strike Two is the issue of allelopathy, in which mature trees often emit substances to discourage the growth of competing plants beneath them The black walnut is the poster child of allelopathy, and other trees have the capability in lesser degrees. The pine is considered only moderately guilty of killing off the competition, but it still must be considered. Allelopathic substances can be in the twigs, foliage or roots; fruit, twigs or foliage cause significant litter beneath the trees, inhibiting just about anything from coming up. Strike Three, the Pinus strobus has a root system that is usually shallow and highly branched with many fine roots close to the surface of the soil, effectively preventing any other plants from getting a foothold or water and nutrition from the soil. The pine needs an acid soil, and helps to perpetuate such a soil from its foliage, which makes the soil acidic. 

Read this USDA Forest Service website Pinus strobus to find out other traits of your tree, including possible pests and diseases. We are going to try to find some plants that might be able to survive in that situation, but we wouldn't bet on any of them flourishing. In the end, you might have to decide-tree or decorative understory plants? We are going to go to our Recommended Species, select Michigan on the map, and search on herbaceous blooming plants and shrubs, looking for plants that like acidic soil, shade and are woodland understory plants. Follow each plant link to the webpage on that plant to get other information on it. We consider "part shade" to be 2 to 6 hours of sun daily, and "shade" to be less than 2 hours of sun daily. Please remember, we make no guarantees these plants will thrive, or maybe even survive under your white pines.

Herbaceous blooming plants

Actaea pachypoda (white baneberry) - 1 to 3 ft. tall, blooms white April to June, part shade or shade

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the pulpit) - 1 to 3 ft., blooms green, purple, brown March to June, sun or shade

Asarum canadense (Canadian wildginger) - 4 to 8 inches high, blooms red, green, purple, brown April to June, part shade or shade

Athyrium filix-femina (common ladyfern) - 2 to 3 ft tall, part shade, shade

Chelone glabra (white turtlehead) - 1 to 4 ft. tall, blooms white, pink July to September, sun, part shade or shade

Mitchella repens (partridgeberry) - trailing evergreen, 2 inches high, blooms white, pink, purple May to October, part shade or shade

Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) - to 1 ft. tall, blooms white March and April,, part shade, shade

Viola pedata (birdfoot violet) - 4 to 10 inches high, blooms blue, purple March to June, part shade, shade

Shrubs

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick) - trailing evergreen shrub, to 3 ft. tall, blooms white, pink March to June, sun, part shade or shade

Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea) - to 3 ft. tall, blooms white March, April, part shade or shade

Diervilla lonicera (northern bush honeysuckle) - to 3 ft. tall, blooms white March, April, part shade, shade

Hypericum prolificum (shrubby St. Johnswort) -to 3 ft. tall, blooms yellow June to August, part shade, shade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Seed and Plant Sources Questions

Source for Orbexilum from Hempstead TX
July 22, 2010 - I am looking for a source of plants or seed for a Texas native plant: Mountain Pea, orbexilum sp. (nova). Thank you,
view the full question and answer

Lingonberry 'Ida' Source for Commercial Production in the Pacific NW
November 08, 2013 - I am having difficulty locating a Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) cultivar named 'Ida'. Where can I purchase this plant for commercial production in the Pacific Northwest?
view the full question and answer

Native plants for Monterey, California
November 25, 2008 - I'm attempting to get my grandparents to buy native plants for their Monterey, CA yard. They are looking for neat-looking, flowering plants that are easy for yard workers to maintain. The area is san...
view the full question and answer

Need source for seeds or plants of Pinus remota in Johnson City, TX..
October 18, 2011 - I cannot seem to find a source for Pinus remota or papershell pinyon pine. Who Grows this? I understand it is rare and would love to try it here in Johnson City. Thanks
view the full question and answer

Native lawn grass for Seabrook TX
March 12, 2013 - We want to seed our lawn in Seabrook, Tx.77586 with a Natural Grass replacing our St. Augustine Grass. I think there is one that is drought resistant (only water it twice a month.) and that does not g...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.