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Wednesday - May 10, 2006

From: Bloomfield Hills, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Michigan native plants for shady, low traffic area
Answered by: Dean Garrett


Hello, I am looking for a recommendation for a Michigan native groundcover. I live adjacent to the Rouge River watershed and want to buy the right thing. The location is shady, infrequently walked upon and under cedar trees. I am desperately trying to control the erosion in this location. Any ideas on plant materials?


When discussing groundcovers, it's important to note that few plants provide the fast-growing, evergreen, total coverage that commercially marketed landscaping groundcovers do. Though some native plants approximate that kind of trailing performance, many do not. Often, when native plant experts refer to “groundcovers,” they mean any low-growing or colonizing plants that will, over time, spread out over an area, whether by seed, runners, or rhizomes. Sometimes they mean any combination of plants that contributes to covering the ground, like the various woodland herbs, sedges, wildflowers, and grasses that cover the forest floor in a sort of loose patchwork of species. Since I'm not familiar with the full characteristics of your site nor with how native plants of your region will perform there, I'm going to follow the multi-species approach with my suggestions.

Culled from our Regional Factpack list of recommended plants for your region, these shade-tolerant natives should contribute to covering the ground and controlling erosion. Combine them to encourage complete coverage and provide a more diverse environment for wildlife. See the Factpack list to determine which plants are most suited for the moisture level of your site.

Ground-Covering Vine

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)


Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)


Canada Wildrye (Elymus canadensis)
Virginia Wildrye (Elymus virginicus)


Wild Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)
Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
Canadian White Violet (Viola canadensis)
Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Low, Colonizing Shrubs

Late Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Since you have what I presume are Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginianus), you might consider adding some native ornamental trees to increase the root hold on the soil and add color against the evergreen foliage of the existing trees:

Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis)
Michigan Holly (Ilex verticillata)
American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)
Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Besides reviewing our Regional Factpack for the Midwest for more ideas, you might also contact a regional native plant organization like the Michigan Botanical Club or the Wildflower Association of Michigan. Your local Michigan Conservation District might also be helpful. Though I haven't seen a copy, I found several references to a book called Landscaping With Native Plants of Michigan, by Lynn M. Steiner, that sounds like a potentially good reference.

For purchasing commercially available native plants, I found this native plant nursery in Ann Arbor, and our National Suppliers Directory can also be of assistance.

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