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
Not Yet Rated

Monday - May 31, 2010

From: Lake Villa, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Ground cover for shady slope in Illinois
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Dear Mr. Smarty: I have a shady sloping area that I am trying to cover with low fast growing, perennials that will keep maintenance to the minimum and prevent erosion. Grass would be very difficult to cut. Non invasive please.


Ferns are the first plant to come to mind and there are several evergreen ones—Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern), Dryopteris marginalis (marginal woodfern), Asplenium platyneuron (ebony spleenwort), and Polypodium virginianum (rock polypody).  Here is more information about the Christmas fern, marginal shield fernebony spleenwort, and rock or common polypody. All these ferns are generally less than 2 feet high.

Another suggestion for an evergreen plant is Lycopodium digitatum (fan clubmoss).  A synonym for the botanical name is Diphasiastrum digitatum and here is more information about it.  It grows to only about 1 foot, but may be difficult to establish.

You can see our list of Illinois Recommended natives that are commercially available and suitable for landscaping.  If you use the NARROW YOUR SEARCH option in the sidebar you can limit the list to plants that grow in the shade by choosing 'Shade...' under LIGHT REQUIREMENTS.   You can also use other criteria to limit the list even more.  Here are a few possibilities from that list.  None of these are evergreen.

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine)

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the pulpit)

Asarum canadense (Canadian wildginger)

Campanula rotundifolia (bluebell bellflower)

Dicentra cucullaria (dutchman's breeches)

Maianthemum racemosum ssp. racemosum (feathery false lily of the valley)

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells)

Polygonatum biflorum (smooth Solomon's seal)

Podophyllum peltatum (mayapple)

Uvularia grandiflora (largeflower bellwort)

Uvularia sessilifolia (sessileleaf bellwort)

Here are photos from our Image Gallery of some of the plants above:

Polystichum acrostichoides

Asplenium platyneuron

Lycopodium digitatum

Asarum canadense

Mertensia virginica

Polygonatum biflorum

Podophyllum peltatum

Uvularia sessilifolia




More Shade Tolerant Questions

Evergreen, deer resistant privacy screen for Villanova PA
March 29, 2013 - Looking for something that is deer resistant and ideally evergreen to block a shed and fence that my neighbor recently installed. Live in Eastern PA. Not the best drainage and also shade for most of...
view the full question and answer

Small evergreen shrubs for part shade in Texas
January 31, 2015 - Mr. Smarty Pants, I'm, for some reason, at odds with myself about a shrub decision. I have need about 8 ft of hedge-like evergreen shrub(s) that I can maintain around 4ft to go under a window. It...
view the full question and answer

Decorative Trees for Scenic Bench in Fairhope IL
June 10, 2012 - I am looking for a recommendation for a pair of small trees (does not grow taller than 18-20 feet) that can provide shade on either side of a stone bench. The site is in full sun, western exposure an...
view the full question and answer

An evergreen, deer-resistant shrub for Memphis
July 24, 2013 - I need an evergreen, deep to partial shade, deer resistant shrub or tree. Does such a plant exist?
view the full question and answer

Native grasses for dry shade in North Central Texas
March 09, 2008 - I live in North Central Texas and have an area that is 80% shade and a dry soil condition. What native grasses would be suitable for this location?
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.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center