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Thursday - April 16, 2015

From: Palos Heights, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant, Shrubs
Title: Native Evergreen for Shady Back Yard in IL
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I am looking for a native evergreen to provide bird shelter in my southeast facing small back yard. I would prefer a horizontal juniper but don't know if it could grow in the shade of the 8 or 9 mature oak trees scattered at 20 foot intervals or so across my own and the neighboring yards. I'm trying to create a woodsy grass-free landscape.


The best place to start your research is on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database

This will give you a large group of plants to start your list. Put in the following search criteria: State = Illinois, habit = shrub, duration = perennial, light requirement = shade, leaf retention = evergreen. This search will reveal 7 native plants. 

Andromeda polifolia (Bog rosemary) A low, evergreen shrub growing from 8 in to 3 ft. in height. The shrub does not have many branches, but many shrubs will grow together to form a clump. The small, firm, narrow leaves are blue-green. Leaf margins roll under. Several small, bell-shaped, pink or white flowers occur together in a curved umbel at the tip of a branch.1-3 ft, moist, acidic soil. Creeping rootstocks form large patches.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick) This is a trailing, evergreen shrub with paddle-shaped leaves on flexible branches. The thick, leathery leaves, rolled under at the edges, are yellow-green in spring, dark-green in summer, and reddish-purple in the fall. Nodding clusters of small, bell-shaped, pink or white flowers occur on bright-red stems. Flowers in racemes on short branches. Bright-red berries succeed the flowers and persist into winter. This ground-trailing shrub has the papery, reddish, exfoliating bark typical of woody plants in northern climates. It is frequently seen as a ground cover in sandy areas such as the New Jersey pine barrens. It is very common on Cape Cod, where it covers vast areas in open, sandy, pine-studded communities. Its complete range is the largest of any in its genus, and it is the only Arctostaphylos species to occur outside of North America, ranging across northern Eurasia and across northern North America south to the mountains of Virginia, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, with isolated populations in the mountains of Guatemala in Central America. It is a hardy shrub for landscaping rocky or sandy sites. Height 6-12 inches, spread up to 15 feet. The fruit is edible but mealy and tasteless; it is much favored by birds and other wildlife. Attracts Butterflies, Hummingbirds. Rocky or sandy, acid soils. Soil should not be compacted around the plants and they should not be fertilized

Epigaea repens (Trailing arbutus) Trailing-arbutus becomes a creeping mat, commonly only 4-6 in. high. The broad, oval, leathery leaves are aromatic and evergreen. A trailing, evergreen plant with sweet-scented pink or white flowers in terminal and axillary clusters on hairy stems. Trumpet-shaped, white to pale pink flowers, also aromatic, are followed by a whitish berry, resembling a raspberry in appearance.

For this favorite wildflower with an exquisite fragrance, one must search among the fallen leaves in early spring. It favors exposed sites where the plants are not smothered by leaf litter. It appears to be sensitive to abrupt environmental disturbances, such as lumbering and grazing, which may account for its present scarcity. It is difficult to cultivate. Trailing Arbutus is sometimes referred to as Plymouth Mayflower in reference to the fact that it was the first flower to cheer the hearts of the Pilgrim Fathers after the rigors of their first New England winter.

Gaultheria procumbens (Eastern teaberry) A low, woody ground cover, wintergreen is grown for its evergreen foliage, flowers, and berries. Two to six inch branches arise from creeping, underground stems and bear 1-2 in. long, oval, shiny, dark green leaves which turn reddish with the advent of cold weather. Small, bell-shaped, white to pink flowers hang on short stems from the leaf axils. The creeping stem of this low, evergreen shrub has upright branches with white, bell-shaped, nodding flowers, solitary or in groups of 2 or 3 in the leaf axils Aromatic red berries follow the flowers.

This leathery, semi-woody, aromatic perennial has creeping underground stems, thus forming small colonies of plants. Showy red fruits may persist through the winter. The genus was named for Dr. Gaultier, a Canadian physician of the mid-18th century. Teaberry extract is used to flavor teas, candies, medicines, and chewing gum.

Taxus canadensis (Canada yew) This yew is a low, straggling shrub or ground cover, 3-6 ft. tall and twice as wide, with flat, narrow needles that are dark green above and pale green below. Evergreen foliage takes on a reddish-brown tint in winter. Spreading limbs ascend at the tips. Bright-red, berry-like fruit grows at the tips of the branches.

The Canada Yew is a member of the family Taxaceae which includes trees and sometimes shrubs, slightly aromatic and resinous, without flowers or fruit; mostly in northern temperate regions. About 20 species worldwide, including 4 native tree and 1 shrub species in North America in the genera yew (Taxus) and torreya (Torreya)

Vaccinium oxycoccos (Small cranberry) Vaccinium oxycoccus, a native of North America and Eurasia that occurs in mainland Canada and across the northern United States, has small leaves that are whitish beneath and have rolled edges.


From the Image Gallery

Bog rosemary
Andromeda polifolia

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Trailing arbutus
Epigaea repens

Eastern teaberry
Gaultheria procumbens

Eastern teaberry
Gaultheria procumbens

Canada yew
Taxus canadensis

Small cranberry
Vaccinium oxycoccos

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