En Español

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - June 27, 2013

From: Evanston, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Propagation, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Illinois native grasses for shade
Answered by: Guy Thompson


Hello, my grass has died in a very shady area (standard buffalo grass), and I took this as an opportunity to plant some native grass varieties. I originally thought of buffalo grass, but learned that it needs at least 6-8 hours of sun, so it definitely won't work. Do you know of any Illinois-native/midwest-native grasses that are low-maintenance, and shade tolerant, and possibly where I could get the seeds? Thanks.



There are several grass species that should grow well in your shady area.  I will list some in order of height, with the tallest first. Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)Tridens flavus (Purpletop tridens)Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama)Paspalum setaceum (Thin paspalum) and Brachyelytrum erectum (Bearded shorthusk).

I do not know whether you plan to allow foot traffic in this area. Inland sea oats has especially attractive leaves and seed heads 3-4 feet in height and will thrive in deep shade.  Canada wild rye is good in shade, but it matures early and turns straw-color in midsummer.  Thin paspalum forms a very low rosette but it does send up taller seed heads. The other species generally resemble each other and are probably best in partial shade.  You might be well advised to try more than one of these grasses to see which prospers best in your particular situation.  

These grasses are best grown from seed, which can be purchased online or from a plant nursery near you.  Good luck in finding the perfect match.  Here are photos of some of the suggested grasses.



From the Image Gallery

Sorghastrum nutans

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Purpletop tridens
Tridens flavus

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

More Shade Tolerant Questions

Leaves turning brown on geum in Mountlake Terrace WA
July 12, 2010 - Assuming a geum is North American . . . mine are turning brown unlike any time before. They get watered occasionally and then dry out. Is there something special I should be doing for geums? They get ...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover under live oaks
June 18, 2012 - I have some areas under Live Oak trees (maybe 200 sq. ft.)that remain bare, in spite of trying Habiturf. Soil is dry, poor and shallow. Can you suggest a living ground cover that would not require m...
view the full question and answer

Flowering shrub for part shade in Southern California
September 10, 2009 - What shrubs would be able to flourish in morning shade but deal with afternoon sun and 90 plus degrees in the summer months in Southern California? I would like a shrub that is about 5 ft. tall and 3 ...
view the full question and answer

Native grasses for shade in Dallas
November 30, 2008 - What native grasses can be grown under large Live Oaks in the Dallas Area? The combination of shade and black gumbo soil seem to keep all plant life, except for poison ivy and ferns, out. I would lo...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a shady garden in Wisconsin
June 22, 2009 - I have a shady garden in southeastern Wisconsin (Milwaukee) and am interested in introducing more native plants of all sizes and heights, hopefully with lovely flowers. I would love to know what you ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center