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How to Identify Ground Cover

By John Lindell ; Updated September 21, 2017

Low-growing plants that evolve into thickened mats on the ground are ground cover species. These plants are very useful when it comes to keeping weed populations in check, controlling erosion or simply covering up an unsightly area and making it more pleasing to the eye. Many types of ground cover are evergreen and many have small flowers that only add to their attractiveness. Some of the more common ground cover plants also grow wild, such as mayapple, lily-of-the-valley and foamflowers, and they are not difficult to recognize.

Look for the leaves of foamflowers that closely resemble those of the maple tree. The leaves have lobes and the typical maple shape. Note they are hairy and close to the ground. The flowers can grow on a stalk almost a foot tall and are delicate, with five petals. They exist in loose clusters at the top of the stalk and give the plant a foamy appearance, hence the name of the plant.

Note the clusters of red berries that give bunchberry its name. This ground cover plant is between two and eight inches high and is a close relation to the flowering dogwood tree. It has similar flowers in that they possess four green-white bracts that people mistake as the flower’s petals. The leaves grow in a whorled pattern together around the stem.

Recognize lily-of-the-valley by its tiny elegant bell-shaped flowers that gradually change to small red berries. The plant is six inches high at the most and the heart-shaped leaves attach to the stem at their base. This plant can colonize a large area of the ground and you will find it blooming between May and June.

Distinguish periwinkle by its evergreen leaves and purple-blue flowers. The flowers are an inch in diameter and blossom in the springtime, continuing to do so all summer long at different periods. The stems extend along the ground and the leaves grow close to the ground; these leaves are about an inch and a half long. Periwinkle is a preferred ground cover for flowers that grow from bulbs, like tulips.

Identify mayapple by its leaves that resemble an umbrella. The leaves hang down and look like two miniature palm tree fronds arranged around a focal point. The flower is one single white blossom that grows from the junction of where the two leave stems branch off. You may notice that some people eat the small yellow fruit that develops, but be aware that the rest of the plant is poisonous.


About the Author


John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.