Thursday, May 19, 2011

Native Combinations: 2 for the Shade

Solidago flexicaulis (Zigzag Solidago) blooms on the side of the road in Vermont.  Image by Thomas Rainer
A shade tolerant Solidago?  A few years ago, I saw a beautiful clump of Solidago flexicaulis (Zigzag Goldenrod) on the side of the road in Vermont.  It was so stunning I stopped the car and pulled out the camera (my wife loves it when I do this—our vacation pictures have more plants in them than people).  Initially, I could not identify the flower.  The plant’s broad-leaves have sharply serrated edges.  That foliage combined with the glowing-yellow racemes reminded me immediately of the ornamental perennial, Ligulara ‘The Rocket’.  Was this some kind of native Ligularia I did not know?

Sharply serrated leaves of Zigzag Goldenrod
This plant really stumped me, mostly because I never assumed Goldenrods could handle as much shade as this plant was in.  But after about 200 Google searches, I finally discovered that this was indeed a native Goldenrod.  Solidago flexicaulis loves moist soil on the edge of a woodland—in this condition it masses spectacularly.  But it is also highly tolerant of dry shade in high light conditions.  It tends not to mass as strongly in dry shade, but it still looks great.  The plant’s broad-leaved foliage looks great in a shade garden.  The plant can easily be grown by seed and spreads rhizomatically.

Want to use Zigzag Goldenrod in combination with other shade tolerant natives?  In the same area I discovered the Solidago, Aster cordifolius (Heart-Leaved Aster) was in full bloom.  The Heart-Leaved Aster is the same height as the Goldenrod, and the sky-blue daisies of the aster combined with the jasmine-yellow Goldenrod create a sparkling ground plane.  The cultivars ‘Avondale’ and ‘Little Carlow’ are nice selections of this species.  For best results, plant this combination along the edge of a lawn in an area of the garden that is shady, but gets high light.  Neither species looks its best in dense shade.  Because the aster grows together in a dense tangle of foliage, don't interplant them one by one.  Instead, clump them in pockets of 3-5 plants side by side for the most legible results. 

Unlike most shade perennials, both this Solidago and Aster bloom in late summer and early fall, providing interest during a time of year when most shade gardens are just foliage.  Pollinators—particularly long and short tongued bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies—love both species.  Remember, these insects are a vital source of food to many woodland songbirds.  Aster divaricatus (White Wood Aster) would be another great native to mix in combination with these plants.


  1. Hi Thomas,
    Two of my favorites, both native locally here.

  2. I've used the aster quite a bit, but not that solidago so much. I plan to use it more.

  3. Both these plants are native here (Eastern Ontario, Canada), and often seen at the edges of woodlands. I find the Goldenrod is usually a bit taller and likes a bit more shade than the Aster so I make it the "behind" partner in my plantings. The combo ooks great along woodland paths. BTW, the aster is now supposed to be called Symphiotrychum cordifolium. Yes, I know.

    What are you doing, talking about Fall flowers in May????

  4. Caught by my own efforts..... let's spell that 'SYMPHYOTRICHUM' this time. Sorry!

  5. What about CA natives? I know we are worlds apart but for dry shady areas Heuchera and Douglas iris are spectacular.

  6. Lis,

    Thanks for the genus change update. I hate it when botanists do that. I still can't remember Cimicifuga is now Actaea.

    Plus, we bloggers have to be ahead of the curb with seasons. By the time August is here, I'll be writing about spring bulbs ;)


If you liked this post . . .

Related Posts with Thumbnails