Perennial Flowers for Shade

A woodland garden or shady side of the house often finds clumps of plantain lilies (Hosta spp.) or ferns. If your soil is moist, fertile and rich in decaying organic matter, you can enjoy many more perennials that reliably produce seasonally ornate flowers from early spring to late summer. While dense, deep shade under massive shade trees or awnings are best left for foliage perennials, consider flowering plants for those areas that get dappled shade or early morning sun followed by shade that is still bright.


Nearly 70 different species of columbine (Aquilegia spp.) exist that can be grown in woodland gardens. Generally speaking, they do not grow well in heavy shade, but need dappled light for best flowering or about 4 hours of morning sunlight. Flower colors range from red, blue, yellow and pink and the flower often have backward-reaching spurs to make them look more ornate.

False Spirea

Although called false spirea (Astilbe spp.), many may more quickly recognize it if called astilbe. Feathery leaves and upright, puffy plumes of white, pink, lavender, red or violet flowers occur in late spring to early summer. Grow false spirea in a moist to wet soil that is rich in organic matter. If soil is constantly wet, the plants tolerate well over 6 hours of direct sunlight. In woodland gardens, flowering is better if very bright indirect light or dappled sun rays reach the plants through forest openings.

Goat's Beard

Goat's beard (Aruncus spp.) looks very much like snakeroot or false spirea in foliage and flower. This clump-forming perennial grows from short rhizome roots and prefers moist, fertile woodland soils. The flowers are wispy spikes of pale green or creamy white upon plants which reach upwards of 4 to 6 feet tall.

Bleeding Heart

With fleshy taproots, bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.) makes a graceful, attractively leaved perennial for shaded gardens with moist, organic-rich soils. If soil is always moist, they can tolerate some direct sun rays. Depending on species or hybrid, bleeding heart grows between 12 and 24 inches tall, but the species Dicentra spectabilis grows nearly 4 feet tall.

Lily of the Valley

A vigorously growing perennial that spreads via underground rhizome roots, lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) will grow in both sunny and heavily shaded locations as long as the soil is moist and fertile. Growing about 10 inches tall but spreading into large mats of an indefinite spread, some people may find lily of the valley a pesky weed in their woodland or shaded gardens.


About 30 different species of wakerobin (Trillium spp.) can be grown in moist, humus-rich soils in shady woodland gardens. Typically never growing taller than 20 inches, the three-part leaves of wakerobin are often spotted with light green or pale maroon. Their most ornamental feature occurs in spring, with three-petaled flowers that range in color from white to yellow or red, depending on species.

Moccasin Flower

Perhaps the ultimate achievement of a shade gardener is the successful cultivation of ladyslipper orchids, also known as moccasin flowers (Cypripedium spp.). Depending on the species, 45 in total, they grow in dry to moist soils that are rich in humus in dappled light shade under tall trees.


Native to consistently moist, shady woodlands, the upright perennials called snakeroot or bugbane have attractive leaves and upright flower spikes of white in late summer. Botanically speaking, they belong to any of the groups named Cimicifuga, Actaea or the species Eupatorium rugosum. Consider staking the upright stems so they don't flop over, and grow them all in partially shaded locations with bright indirect light for best flowering.

Lenten Roses

Blooming in late winter or early spring when the forest trees are leafless, Lenten roses (Helleborus spp.) bring delicate petal shades of white, pink, mauve and creamy beige.

Keywords: shade perennials, flowering shade plants, gardening in shade

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.