Dry shade is commonly found beneath deciduous trees. The tree roots eagerly use all available nutrients and moisture, leaving little or none for grass or flowers. Consequently, most annual and perennial plants will not grow well or at all in these conditions of "dry shade." Fortunately there are a number of plants that thrive in dry shade and will grow quite well there.
A tough and long-lived groundcover, barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) tolerates dry shade once established, but requires moist soil when young. It grows 12 to 15 inches high with medium green, heart-shaped leaves with pinked edges. Barrenwort produces unusual lavender flowers from late spring to early summer and the foliage turns a burgundy-red in autumn.
A perennial grass that grows well in partial shade, bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) gets its common name from the bristly spikelets on its seed head that resemble a bottlenbrush. It is native to much of northern North America. Bottlebrush grass is native to the edges of woodlands and tolerates either moist or dry soil. Attractive to butterflies, it is an excellent addition to a butterfly garden.
An evergreen low-growing plant commonly used as a ground cover, liriope (Liriope spp.) grows 8 to 12 inches high with an equal spread. It prefers partial to deep shade and well-drained soil. It forms grass-like clumps with strap-like, fine textured dark green leaves that turn bronze-green in winter. Pale violet or white flowers bloom in spike-like clusters in late summer and produce blue-black berry-like fruits in autumn. Liriope is tolerant of adverse conditions. It tolerates drought quite well, but can be invasive under ideal growing conditions.