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
4 ratings

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.

More Shade Tolerant Questions

What shade trees and shrubs are safe to plant around horses in Iowa?
February 09, 2009 - I need to know what shade trees, flowering trees, shrubs and flowering shrubs are safe to plant around horses in Iowa. thanks
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for a dry slope in PA
May 23, 2013 - My side yard is a slope with rocky (a lot of small serpentine rocks) soil under white and black pine trees. I can grow lots of weeds :-) but would like to plant a low (0-3in) evergreen ground cover th...
view the full question and answer

Plant called cow shade or cow weed that is poisonous
July 25, 2008 - There is a plant called cow shade or cow weed, not exactly sure. It kills whitetail deer. I would like to know the name of the plant and the specifics. If you could help me it would be greatly appreci...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for shady area in north Texas
July 29, 2013 - I'm looking for a ground cover for a mostly shady area where St. Augustine won't grow. I don't want the ground cover to overtake my established St. Augustine in the rest of the yard. The area is un...
view the full question and answer

Plants for Shady Clay soil in Illinois
June 18, 2012 - Could you recommoned native plants for clay soil and shade near Chicago?
view the full question and answer

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