En EspaŅol

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
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
3 ratings

Friday - July 03, 2009

From: Mclean, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Understory planting in Virginia
Answered by: Anne Bossart


We have some 10 mature tulip and sycamore trees in our No. VA property. The previous home owners were fond of English Ivy and Japanese pachysandra. We are working hard at replacing these invasives to encourage amphibians and birds to be permanent residents. Can you please provide understory trees and/or shrubs as well as perenial companions to these trees? I would also be interested in information about how to remove the pachysandra.


As you already know, the only way to eradicate tenacious vines and groundcovers is to be persistent.  As far as the pachysandra goes, there are three methods:  kill it chemically (not the Green Guru's recommended method!), covering it with black plastic to starve it of light and water (time consuming and unsightly) and digging it up (just plain hard work).  It has been suggested that the best way to achieve removal by digging is to post on the web that it is available for free to those who will dig it!

We applaud your efforts to welcome nature back to your property.  Visit the National Wildlife Federation's website at www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife for tips on creating a wildlife habitat garden.  You will also find two books particularly helpful:  Rick Darke's "The American Woodland Garden" and Ken Druse's "The Natural Habitat Garden".  

You don't mention the size of your property, conditions (soil, moisture, light) or what type of neighbourhood you are in, but going on the assumption that conditions will be fairly shady and dry, here are some plant recommendations for Virginia.  If you visit our Plant Database and do a combination search for your area and conditions or search Recommended Species for Virginia you will find many more choices.  In the end, your choices will be limited by what is available in the nurseries in your area.

Understory trees:

Acer pensylvanicum (striped maple)

Aesculus pavia (red buckeye)

Amelanchier canadensis (Canadian serviceberry)

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud)

Hamamelis virginiana (American witchhazel)


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick)

Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)

Lindera benzoin (northern spicebush)

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac)

Rhododendron canescens (mountain azalea)

Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)

Viburnum acerifolium (mapleleaf viburnum)


Anemone virginiana (tall thimbleweed)

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine)

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the pulpit)

Erythronium albidum (white fawnlily)

Iris verna (dwarf violet iris)

Polygonatum biflorum (smooth Solomon's seal)

Polypodium virginianum (rock polypody)

Acer pensylvanicum

Aesculus pavia

Amelanchier canadensis

Cercis canadensis

Hamamelis virginiana

Ilex verticillata

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Comptonia peregrina

Lindera benzoin

Rhus aromatica

Rhododendron canescens

Vaccinium corymbosum

Viburnum acerifolium

Anemone virginiana

Aquilegia canadensis

Arisaema triphyllum

Erythronium albidum

Iris verna

Polygonatum biflorum

Polypodium virginianum






More Invasive Plants Questions

Official list of invasive plants in Texas.
January 25, 2008 - Is there an "official" invasive / noxious weed list for Texas? I have found several lists, but I wanted to know if there was one truly accepted list for Texas. If not, what would be the #1 list yo...
view the full question and answer

Elimination of nutgrass from native flower bed
October 14, 2007 - Nutgrass!*#!* My new bed in NE Austin wraps around a hot sunny SW street corner. Grass wouldn't grow there [I wouldn't water it.] I removed the turf [mostly stickers] to a depth of about 4", carefu...
view the full question and answer

Invasive spreading weed in Michigan that looks like a small pine tree
July 29, 2013 - I have an invasive spreading weed in my gardens. It has black root system, comes up looking like a small pine tree. The green breaks off when you try to pull it.
view the full question and answer

Non-native, invasive creeping fig in Webster TX
May 26, 2013 - We've recently moved into a new home in the southeast Houston area. The back of our property has a long concrete wall (gets quite a bit of sun), which we thought we could cover with a spreading vine....
view the full question and answer

How to eradicate chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata)
February 10, 2008 - How do I get rid of a invasive ground covering plant called Camelion without hurting the ground so I can plant something else?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center