Native Shade Plants

Native Shade Plants

Part of Ep. 204 Container and Shade Gardening

Tour horticulture professor Dennis Stimart's native woodland garden. Highlights include trillium, virginia bluebell, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, bloodroot and bellwort.

Premiere date: May 31, 1994

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We're in the native woodland garden of Dennis Stimart, professor of horticulture for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dennis, this is great. Tell me about how you created this.

Dennis:
Well, Shelley, I think the first thing that's most important is that you have a proper site to work with. And, on our site, we have well-established pine trees and oak trees. The soil on the site is a deep, rich soil that is damp, but not wet. It's full of humus. Also, the site has partial sunlight and more importantly is protected from strong winds.

Shelley:
Well, it looks like you've taken advantage, really, of a natural ravine here.

Dennis:
Yes, this is a natural ravine.

Shelley:
So that makes it easier. When I had my first tree in my first patch of shade, I wanted a woodland garden. So, I planted trilliums and they came up and looked great. And then the wind came up and blew all the petals off. So, just having a patch of shade doesn't mean you've got the right site for a woodland garden.

Dennis:
No, that is just one environmental parameter that is considered when selecting a site for a woodland garden.

Shelley:
Well, your trilliums still have their petals. In fact, they look absolutely beautiful.

Dennis:
This is a trillium that we have in the upper midwest. It's native to this area and you'll notice the very large, white flower that the plant produces. Immediately below this are three very large leaves that are connected at one point. And then, if you follow this plant down to the ground where it emerges out, you'll see this very long, strong stem that is 12-14 inches in length.

Shelley:
Quite high.

Dennis:
And referring back to your point of wind damage, this plant is very susceptible to wind damage in the spring. So it needs protection, not just from sun, but a hollow, a ravine, or something like this.

Dennis:
Yes it does.

Shelley:
Now this is virginia bluebell. This is a lovely color in the spring.

Dennis:
This also is a well known woodland plant that we have in the upper midwest. You'll notice the flowers. They're trumpet shaped. They're a very nice light blue color tinged with a pink or a rose.

Shelley:
Really pretty.

Dennis:
The foliage on the plant is fresh green and you'll notice the growth habit. It's a very strong growing upright plant.

Shelley:
Now, this is a spring ephemeral.

Dennis:
Yes, it is and what that means is, basically, this plant will have completed its life cycle by mid-July. It will have set seed and the stems will have died back to the ground.

Shelley:
So, there won't be anything here. It might be a good idea to plant ferns or something else to fill in these holes.

Dennis:
You should interplant some green root to carry it through the rest of the summer.

Shelley:
Well now, I hear occasionally of people going out into the woods to dig up these plants to create their woodland garden. That's not a good idea.

Dennis:
No, that's something that I consider is a major travesty. I very strongly urge people not to go out into the woods and dig up these woodland plants. Basically, because very few of them transplant successfully. What people should be doing is going to a reputable greenhouse dealer that knows how to propagate. They sell the plants inside containers. You take the plants home then and transplant them into your site.

Shelley:
Start correctly that way. Well, let's look at another plant. These, as you said, vanish. Let's look at something that's interesting all season, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit for instance. You can see why they call this Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Here's Jack and he's sitting in his pulpit. That's his pulpit.

Dennis:
Yes, actually what you're referring to here, Shelley, is the flower on the plant. This is the spade and the spadex. It's a unique feature of this plant, or one of them. Some other unique features on this plant are on the stem. You'll notice the purple/brown coloration with a mottling of the green that's superimposed on this. This plant will get to a height of about one and a half to two feet.

Shelley:
Really pretty.

Dennis:
And late in the fall, on the spadex will be some very bright vermillion red berries that are produced that will persist throughout the winter.

Shelley:
So, even in the snow.

Dennis:
Oh, absolutely.

Shelley:
Now, do you use the berries to propagate the plant?

Dennis:
What I do is, I collect the berries and I use them for propagation. I take them and disperse them around in the garden, work them in the soil maybe around a quarter of an inch in depth. And they germinate the following season and start producing new plants.

Shelley:
Do you do that with everything?

Dennis:
Yes, most of the plants that I have in this woodland garden, I do. Here's another example of a plant that can be propagated by seed, the bloodroot and as you can see down here are the developing seed pods.

Shelley:
Those are the pods.

Dennis:
They're not ripe, yet. They'll be ripe in about four to five weeks and I'll collect those seeds and disperse them.

Shelley:
And you do that the same season they ripen, so in the fall, basically.

Dennis:
Yes, uh-huh.

Shelley:
Well, this is a plant that's been around for quite a while. In fact, Native Americans used the blood-red sap for dye paint. That's where it gets its name, bloodroot.

Dennis:
It also makes a very handsome ground cover. You can see the very handsome leaves that are present on the plant. It colonizes and the foliage will persist throughout the summer.

Shelley:
Well, let's take a look at one more plant, something that is a little bit more upright, for instance the bellwort.

Dennis:
The bellwort, yes, is a very upright plant. It produces very strong, wire-like stems. Bore on the end of those stems are these attractive fresh green leaves. A very attractive feature at this time of the year are the pendant tubular yellow flowers it produces.

Shelley:
Well, if you do all of your propagation from seed, how long 'till I see flowers like those?

Dennis:
You can expect about two to five years.

Shelley:
That's for all of these plants?

Dennis:
Yes, generally that's the case. You have to be very patient.

Shelley:
But I think it's well worth waiting for.

Dennis:
It is worth waiting for.

Shelley:
Thanks, Dennis.

Dennis:
You're welcome.

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