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
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

Privacy screening from Phoenix AZ
April 14, 2013 - I live in the center of Phoenix, Az. On the eastern side of my house we have some 2 story condos next door. The width of the side yard is about 12'-15' and it gets lots of shade. I also have my powe...
view the full question and answer

Grasses for shady areas
November 24, 2013 - I would like to know which grasses would grow in mostly shady part of the house.
view the full question and answer

Connecticut Plants for a Steep Slope
September 09, 2015 - I am looking for the best plants to retain a steep, dry, fully shaded slope in zone 5, Connecticut. It must be deer resistant. Plant height is not a factor.
view the full question and answer

Shrub for mostly shaded area in The Woodlands TX
December 19, 2012 - What large shrub will grow in a partially shaded to mostly shaded tree area in The Woodlands(Spring), Texas which is north of Houston, Texas between Houston and Conroe? The Woodlands is in the very so...
view the full question and answer

Screen and shade for pool in Michigan
July 18, 2010 - We recently moved to a new home that has a pool. There is no shade nor privacy. What types of trees, plants would you recommend for our small backyard?
view the full question and answer

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