17 Native Crops to Add to Your Shade Backyard

Looking for plants to keep in a shaded garden space can get frustrating because so many species, especially flowering plants, need full sun. This is particularly difficult if you want to maintain a native ecosystem in your garden.

It can feel like there are plants that fit into one group or the other, but rarely both. To find native shade plants, we have to deviate from the fields and meadows that are usually host to native flowering plants. 

By looking at woodland and forest environments, we can find the plants that grow in our region and prefer the shelter of taller shrubs and trees. There is a special magic in these spaces, and in the shade garden, we recreate the peaceful coolness of the forest understory. Here are 17 wonderful plants native to North America that will grow beautifully in your shade garden.

American Beautyberry

In late spring, the American beautyberry intermittently produces delicate clusters of small, pink flowers along its branches.

I can’t say enough positive things about this versatile and beautiful plant. I have it all over my yard, and it is one of my favorite native shade plants for all the birds and butterflies it brings to my yard.

American beautyberry is a perennial shrub that reaches about 9’ tall under the right conditions. It can be pruned to the ground in winter when the branches are bare, and it will return in the spring, growing up to 5’-6’ tall in a single season.

The leaves of American beautyberry are large and ovate. The foliage is an attractive light to medium shade of green. This plant produces clusters of small, pink, delicate flowers at intervals along branches in the late spring.

Pollinators love these flowers, and their pollination will result in berries in the fall. Called beautyberry for a reason, these berries are a stunning shade of purple and provide a good food source for overwintering birds. It can grow in many exposure conditions, from full sun to nearly complete shade, but it performs best with a bit of both. 

Amethyst Shootingstar

Lavender amethyst shooting star flowers stretch their slender petals towards the sky, as if trying to touch the heavens. In the background, lush long grasses sway gently in the breeze, creating a mesmerizing blur of green hues. A spring bloomer, amethyst shootingstar displays remarkably exquisite flowers.

This lovely addition to the shade garden is more than a pretty face; amethyst shootingstar also has wonderfully fragrant flowers! It also has attractive foliage and can handle light conditions from full sun to nearly complete shade. It is also at risk of becoming endangered, so for those living in the northern central US, this is an important native plant to cultivate. 

Amethyst shootingstar is a spring bloomer, and its flowers are quite beautiful. Sometimes called jeweled shootingstar, its name originates from the distinctive shape of its flower. These clusters of pink and purple flowers have a white tubular center with shades of brown and orange.

As they bloom, the petals turn backward, giving it the look of a comet with an extended tail. Its foliage stays close to the ground, making this a nice foreground plant. Tall stems emerge from the center leaves organized in a rosette form. 

Black Cohosh

A close-up of black cohosh flowers, showcasing their hair-like white petals. The small leaves accompanying the flowers add to the plant's graceful charm, while the soft blur of the greenery in the background creates a sense of natural harmony.In northern climates, black cohosh is a summer bloomer, but the specific month of blooming will vary based on location.

Black cohosh is perhaps best known for its use as a supplement, which is extensive. It is also a very attractive, shade-loving plant native to the eastern United States.

The shrubby foliage makes it a great foundational plant in the shade garden. Bright green, toothy leaves grow in triads along slender branches. 

The flowers of the black cohosh plant are truly spectacular. It is a summer bloomer, but the month will vary based on location, with plants blooming later in the summer in northern climates. Tall stems support very large racemes of snowy white blooms. The flowers are small and have very fine, almost hairlike petals. The blooming period is about 3 weeks long

Cardinal Flower

Captivating red cardinal flower in a detailed close-up, revealing its striking red petals and stems. The soft blur in the background enhances the impression of an enchanting garden, with leaves and stems harmoniously merging into the scene.The cardinal flower is a rapid grower in its first year and usually blooms in that first season.

Another lovely bloomer, the cardinal flower earns its nickname not from the little red bird but rather from the red robes worn by Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is native to most of the United States, except for a few states in the northwest. It is a short-lived perennial but reseeds freely, so there are always a few more to replace plants that have run their course.

Cardinal flower is a fast grower and typically flowers in its first year. The blooming season typically runs from July through the fall, providing a great nectar source for hummingbirds. Tall flower stalks support clusters of bright red, starlike flowers. This plant prefers partial shade to full, so plant it in the part of your shade garden that gets the most light, indirect or otherwise.

Celandine Poppy

A stunning close-up of a vibrant celadine poppy flower, showcasing its brilliant yellow petals and delicate stamen. The flower's green leaves, which possess a soft, cottony texture, complement the bloom gracefully.Preserving the celandine poppy is crucial due to its endangered status in its natural habitats.

The celandine poppy is an important plant to preserve as it is endangered in its native habitats. This woodland plant is long-lived and looks wonderful in the flower garden as an ornamental. The foliage is especially attractive. The leaves are up to 6” long and bluish-green.

They are double-pinnate and have deep primary lobes, each with individual shallower lobes. They definitely bring a unique and beautiful textural element to the garden.

Celandine poppy prefers to be grown in at least partial shade. In spring, delicate, golden flowers bloom in small clusters. The flowers are small (1”-2”) and resemble a cross between a California poppy and a buttercup. Deadhead this plant to keep the flowers blooming into the summer months.


Vivid purple columbine flowers gracefully sway in the breeze, their delicate petals forming intricate star-like patterns. The soft focus background highlights an abundance of lush green leaves, enhancing the flowers' enchanting beauty.
Planting columbine under a tree will make them quite happy as they prefer dappled sun.

Although often billed as a full sun plant, columbine actually prefers partial shade and can thrive in a shade garden with just a modest amount of exposure throughout the day.

It enjoys dappled sun, so planting under a tree will make this plant quite happy. Columbines are easy to grow and reseed freely, so a few plants can quickly turn into a mass planting.

Columbine has truly lovely and unique flowers. These blooms come in just about every color of the rainbow and often combine 2 colors. The downward-facing flowers resemble a crown, and their tubular shape makes them attractive to hummingbirds. They are also native to large portions of the eastern and central United States.

Coral Bells

A cluster of coral bell leaves in varying shades of red, showcasing nature's vibrant palette. The leaves exhibit delicate, intricate veins, resembling a network of crimson pathways, adding depth and charm to their appearance.Heuchera prefers being planted in partial to full shade.

Coral bells are best known for their attractive foliage, which comes in shades of red, green, purple, gold, and cocoa. They prefer to be planted in at least partial shade but can tolerate a small amount of daily sun in cooler climates.

In warm climates, keep these pretty native plants predominantly in the shade. Coral bells are evergreen in zones 7 and warmer, making them a great addition to the shade garden. 

In late spring and early summer, this plant lives up to its moniker by producing tall stems topped with beautiful, delicate, bell-shaped flowers in shades of pink and white. These flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.

While the flowers are pretty, the foliage draws most gardeners to coral bells. It’s distinctive in coloration and provides a pop of color throughout the growing season.

Goat’s Beard

White goat's beard's feathery clusters of creamy white flowers swaying gracefully on their slender stems. Against the backdrop of lush green leaves, these charming goat's beard flowers add a touch of ethereal beauty to the scenery. The shrubby foliage of goat’s beard is bright green and lush.

With a name like goat’s beard, you might not expect such a spectacular plant, but spectacular it is, particularly when in bloom. This member of the rose family prefers to be in partial shade, especially in warmer climates where it is prone to leaf scorch if it receives too much hot sun. In cooler climates, goat’s beard is more tolerant of light conditions but will need shade in the afternoon. 

The shrubby foliage of the plant is bright green and lush. It makes a wonderful hedge in a shaded area. In late May, goat’s beard produces tall stems, up to 6’ tall, and topped with fluffy, feathery clusters of creamy white flowers. The effect is quite spectacular, with the flowers blooming through July and attracting a host of pollinators to the garden.

Heartleaf Foamflower

A cluster of heartleaf foamflowers with delicate white petals and yellow stamens at the center. Amidst the greenery in the blurred backdrop, these lovely blooms steal the spotlight with their subtle elegance.This is a low-maintenance plant that thrives in almost complete shade.

Heartleaf foamflower is a great ground cover for shaded areas and grows throughout the eastern United States. It is a low-maintenance native shade plant that can thrive in nearly complete shade. The spreading habit of its low, dense foliage makes foamflower a good solution for controlling weeds

From April through June, heartleaf foamflower produces its frothy, white clusters of flowers, which have a foam-like look from a distance and give the plant its unique common name. The foliage is bright green with bits of purple near the central veins of the leaves. This is an all-around, great shade garden plant.

Maidenhair Fern

A verdant paradise of maidenhair ferns flourishing in their natural habitat, thriving in the moist and shaded ground. The background displays a verdant tapestry of leaves, offering a harmonious backdrop that accentuates the fern's vibrant allure. The new growth of the maidenhair fern exhibits tender and fan-shaped leaves.

I love this next plant but have a complicated relationship with it due to its culinary appeal to squirrels, which is extensive. If you are fortunate and do not have a squirrel problem, the maidenhair fern is a delightful addition to the shade garden. Although it is not a flowering plant, the foliage is attractive enough to use as an ornamental.

The stems of the maidenhair fern are very thin and delicate. Even the slightest movement nearby causes them to bounce and sway charmingly. The leaves are fan-shaped and tender, especially the new growth.

Each of the individual plants grows to about 1’-2’ tall and wide, and a grouping of these ferns makes a striking ground cover or foreground in shaded spaces.

Poke Milkweed

Pendulous poke milkweed flowers gracefully dangle, showcasing their pure white petals.  The foreground unveils the leaves of the milkweed plant, while the softly blurred background forms a lush tapestry of verdant foliage.This milkweed has non-invasive growth habits and bears petite, pendulous, white flowers.

Many milkweed species are native to the United States, but only a few thrive in the shade. There is where poke milkweed comes in. Poke milkweed is native to most of the eastern United States and grows mainly in upland woods where it gets dappled sunlight through the filter of a tree canopy.

Poke milkweed is much taller than most types of milkweed, coming in at around 5’ tall when mature. The leaves are also much larger than other species.

This is great news for several moths and butterflies, including the Monarch butterfly, which exclusively uses milkweed species as its larval food. Poke milkweed produces small, white, pendulous flowers and does not spread aggressively.

Solomon’s Plume

Revealing nature's artistry at its finest, these Solomon’s plume flowers flaunt a symphony of ivory hues. The artistically blurred leaves in the background provide a delightful canvas.Native to most of the eastern and central United States, Solomon’s plume thrives in those regions.

This native perennial plant likes part shade and acidic soil. It is commonly found growing under pine and oak canopies where the soil is rich and acidic. It spreads by rhizome but colonizes slowly, so it is not difficult to maintain.

Solomon’s plume is native to most of the eastern and central United States. However, it doesn’t thrive in hot, humid weather, so south of Zone 8, it is unlikely to flourish.

Solomon’s plume has sturdy foliage with large elliptical leaves growing opposite of one another on slightly curving stems. Springtime clusters of white flowers bloom at the ends of stems. These turn into gorgeous, ruby red berries, which are both edible and have ornamental value. 

Tall Bellflower

A cluster of elegant purple tall bellflowers showcasing their vibrant petals forming a beautiful display of color and grace. Beneath these majestic flowers lie their lush green leaves, providing a contrasting backdrop that enhances the vibrancy of the purple blooms.Due to their abundant nectar production, tall bellflowers attract hummingbirds.

Also known as American bellflower, this biennial is a vigorous self-seeder that may take two years to flower. Once established, it will be a consistent bloomer during the mid to late summer.

In its first year, this bellflower will form a rosette of heart-shaped, medium-green leaves. This color will deepen in the second year as the plant nears blooming time. 

Interestingly, the leaves on the flower spike are oblong and pointed, differing from the heart-shaped leaves of the basal rosette. These flower stems reach 3’-5’ tall and are covered in small, blue, trumpet-shaped flowers. They look similar to the blooms of the Chinese bellflower. These are great nectar producers and bring hummingbirds to the garden. 

Tall Thimbleweed

A detailed close-up of a tall thimbleweed flower showcasing its six graceful, pristine white petals that gently unfurl, surrounding a vibrant cluster of sunny yellow stamen at its heart. The background provides a soft, blurred canvas of lush green leaves.In both partial and full shade, tall thimbleweed thrives and grows beautifully.

This member of the buttercup family is a common native flower in the eastern United States. It is usually found under woodland canopies where the shade is deep and the soil is rich. The foliage is unique and pretty, with intricately cut leaves that grow in a whorl at the base of the plant and again directly below the flowers. The flowers sit atop tall stems, so this leaf formation is striking. 

The plant produces several stems, which range from 2’-3’ tall, and each is topped with a greenish-white flower that shows its anemone roots in its appearance.

When the flower petals fall, a green, thimble-shaped center remains from which the plant gets its name. This thimble turns cottony and white in the winter, and the plant freely reseeds. Tall thimbleweed will grow nicely in both partial and full shade.

Virginia Bluebell

Trumpet-shaped flowers of blue virginia bluebells bloom enchantingly. The lush foliage and additional blooms create a mesmerizing backdrop, painting a picturesque scene of the great outdoors.
Pendulous clusters of Virginia bluebell flowers appeal to hummingbirds, butterflies, and long-tongued bees.

If you’re looking for a native shade plant that’s as cute as a button, look no further than Virginia bluebell. The plant grows to a maximum of 2’ tall, with several large, soft-looking leaves growing in pairs along each stem. Virginia bluebell grows best in partial shade or filtered light. Under a tree is a perfect spot for this beauty. 

In spring, Virginia bluebell blooms, and the flowers are just the sweetest things you’ve ever seen. Cotton candy pink buds open to true blue, trumpet-shaped blooms.

The flower clusters are pendulous and very attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and long-tongued bees. These pretty blooms are very lightly fragrant.

Western Bleeding Heart

Pink Western bleeding hearts hanging gracefully from slender stems, showcasing their unique heart-shaped petals. The blurred background gently hints at lush green leaves, providing context and setting the scene for this captivating floral display.In the classic bleeding heart style, the flowers are pendulous and downturned.

Western bleeding heart is one of 8 species of Dicentra and a great plant to grow in a shade garden. This slow spreading perennial colonizes, but not so quickly that it becomes a hassle. Instead, spring after spring, new little plants will unfurl their delicate, fernlike leaves and stretch 12” long stems upward toward the sky. 

The flowers, in typical bleeding heart fashion, are pendulous and downturned. They come in shades of pink, purple, and red, some with white inner petals.

Western bleeding heart is native to the Pacific Northwest in the United States, naturally growing in woodland areas. Despite its delicate appearance, it is a hardy plant with good staying power. It is also a favorite among hummingbirds.

Wild Ginger

A pair of wild ginger leaves with distinctive heart-shaped outlines, showcasing their tiny, hair-like structures, giving them a soft, velvety texture when touched. These leaves are surrounded by a carpet of dried leaves.Newly-hatched flies primarily pollinate little wild ginger plants.

Rounding out our list is an intriguing plant with some very unique characteristics. The foliage of wild ginger is what this plant is generally appreciated for.

It is rhizomatic and forms low clusters along the ground of large, heart-shaped leaves that curl around themselves, creating a whorl or spiral effect. Although the plant was once used medicinally, it is now known to contain toxic compounds, so it should not be consumed.

The most interesting thing about this plant is its flowers and how they have evolved to support this pretty woodland ground cover. The flowers form at the base of the plant, small, brown, and faintly pubescent, with a cream-colored highlight in the heart of the bloom.

These are pollinated primarily by newly-hatched flies. Their seeds have an oily elaiosome that attracts ants, then take the seed to their underground home, eat the part they are after, and leave the seed to germinate. 

Final Thoughts

You can have a beautiful flowering native shade garden by looking to the right sources for plants that thrive in low-light conditions. Looking at our local woods and forests, many beautiful and unique plants flourish under the canopy.

Each attracts pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies, who enjoy the cool respite and appreciate these sweet nectar-giving flowers. These plants can also be a perfect match for your shaded garden space!

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