20 Gorgeous Wildflowers for Shade Gardens


If you have a spot in your yard where you’ve struggled to grow flowering plants because of a lack of sun exposure, you may be wondering if you have any options that will grow well there. Shade gardens can be just as lovely as sunny garden beds.

There is a whole world of flowering plants that naturally grow in shaded woodland environments, and they make excellent additions to the shade garden. Each of these wildflowers enjoys the cool comfort and moist soil common to low-light areas and provides many seasons of interest, texture, and color.

Of course, what constitutes a wildflower changes from place to place and personal philosophy. In this article, we’ll use “wildflower” to refer to any flowers, whether native or introduced, that grow easily untended in natural areas. As always, we advise you to check invasive species lists in your region before planting.

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Snapdragon

Dark red snapdragon flowers, with delicate petals, stand tall amidst lush green leaves. In the background, a gentle blur reveals the serene presence of towering trees, creating a harmonious backdrop for the vibrant floral display.
Ideal for partial shade, snapdragons thrive beneath deciduous trees.
botanical-name
botanical name


Antirrhinum majus
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial shade
height
height


30”-36”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


7-11

Snapdragons are a perfect flower to plant under the canopy of a deciduous tree. In spring, while the trees haven’t yet fully grown their leaves back after winter, your snapdragons will get a bit more sun. During the heat of summer, these plants need protection from the heat of the sun, especially in the afternoon, so partial shade or dappled sun is just right. 

Snapdragons are a favorite among children for their fun flowers that resemble a dragon’s head with moveable jaws when the sides of the bloom are pinched. They make excellent cut flowers as well with their long stems and soft, attractive leaves. Grow these as annuals in cooler climates and perennials in Zones 7-11. 

Siberian Bugloss

Clusters of delicate Siberian Bugloss flowers, small and vivid blue, stand out against the backdrop of oversized, heart-shaped leaves. The leaves showcase a muted green hue accentuated by intricate deep green veins.
A low-maintenance woodland plant with heart-shaped leaves, Siberian bugloss spreads through rhizomes.
botanical-name
botanical name


Brunnera macrophylla
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


1’-2’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


3-8

If beautiful foliage and delicate flowers are your thing, Siberian bugloss is a wonderful little plant that performs quite well in partial and full shade. This woodland understory plant has large, showy, heart-shaped leaves that grow close to the ground. Some varieties have variegated foliage, and in warmer climates, it’s evergreen. The stunning leaves have a luminous quality and are rough and hairy to the touch.

In spring, Siberian bugloss produces sprays of adorable cornflower blue blossoms that sit atop thin, delicate, leafless stems. The flowers are attractive to pollinators. This plant spreads by underground rhizomes and fills in shaded spaces nicely over time. It is beautiful year-round and requires very little maintenance. 

Fumewort

Purple fumewort flowers rise gracefully on long, slender stems, showcasing nature's delicate beauty. Beneath, textured leaves sprawl, framing the blooms with their lush greenery. Surrounding this spectacle, an array of diverse plants adds a tapestry of colors and shapes.
Thriving in shade, fumewort’s blue flowers and bronze-veined leaves create a captivating display.
botanical-name
botanical name


Corydalis solida
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


12”-15”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


5-9

Fumewort is a perfect addition to the shade garden. This flowering plant prefers dappled light to moderate shade and needs soil that stays moist through the blooming period. The blooming period is longer in areas with temperate summers and doesn’t endure heat and humidity very well, making shade a necessity in warmer climates. 

In mid-spring, pendulous clusters of pretty pink flowers begin to bloom. Through the blooming period, which can last through the fall, this is a very showy plant. Light green textured leaves add interest even when the plant isn’t in bloom. In warm climates, blooming may cease during summer and resume when the weather cools again. 

Anise Hyssop

Vibrant, tall anise hyssop flowers stand proud, their deep purple hue soaking in the sunlight, adding a rich contrast to the surroundings. Beneath these stunning blooms lie green leaves, providing a complementary backdrop to the blossoms above.
Attracting various pollinators, anise hyssop emits a delightful aroma when its leaves are crushed.
botanical-name
botanical name


Agastache foeniculum
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Full sun to partial shade
height
height


2’-4’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


4-8

This is one of my favorite garden plants because it attracts a plethora of pollinators and requires little to no care after planting. It readily re-seeds itself, and the leaves have a wonderful aroma when crushed. Although it grows best and largest with more sun, it performs surprisingly well and is more long-lasting when planted in partial shade. 

Anise Hyssop is not related to anise, but it has some great uses in and outside of the garden, including its use in the treatment of respiratory illness. The plant is a small shrub that grows very quickly at the beginning of the season, flowers for a long period, and dies back to the ground in fall. The tall spikes of fuzzy purple flowers are a favorite among bumble bees and honey bees. 

Foxglove

Clusters of tall, tubular purple foxglove flowers rise amidst green leaves, adding a majestic touch to the garden landscape. The blurred background unveils towering trees, creating a serene and natural backdrop that enhances the beauty of the floral display.
Tall, elegant foxgloves bloom their second year, thriving in partial sun.
botanical-name
botanical name


Digitalis
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial shade
height
height


1’-5′
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


4-9

Foxglove is a woodland plant that grows best at the edges of shade gardens where it receives partial sun. Digitalis species are tall, elegant, and perfect for a classic cottage garden aesthetic. Long stems of flashy, bell-shaped flowers tower over other flowering plants, creating a striking vertical element. 

Foxgloves are biennial, which means that most types bloom in their second year. If you want flowers every year, plant them two years in a row, and expect no flowers in the first year unless you plant from nursery starts. They self-seed, so once you’ve got them established, you should have an abundance of these wonderful plants. Pet owners beware: foxgloves are poisonous to animals and humans if ingested. 

Eastern Red Columbine

Eastern Red Columbine flowers sway gently on slender, flexible stems above lush green leaves. The blurred background accentuates the delicate, intricate beauty of the flowers against a backdrop of vibrant foliage.
This plant supports showy red and yellow flowers with tubular structures rich in nectar.
botanical-name
botanical name


Aquilegia canadensis
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial shade
height
height


up to 3’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


2-9

Similar to garden Columbines, this plant has attractive, lobed leaves that make a wonderful foundation for the showy red and yellow flowers. The flowers have tubular structures that contain a large amount of nectar and are highly popular with hummingbirds and long-tongued insects. 

This wildflower is native to a significant part of North America and is not considered invasive. Additionally, it has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. The blue-green foliage is attractive even when the plant isn’t in bloom.

Violet

A cluster of wild violet blooms on a mounded plant with heart-shaped leaves.
Flowering violets bloom in both spring and fall if they receive proper care.
botanical-name
botanical name


Viola
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


3”-12”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


3-8

Violets are a large genus of flowering plants that include pansies, violas, and violets, among others. Most of these plants tolerate some sun but are happiest in partial shade. Some even prefer near-complete shade. These are cool-weather plants that flower through the spring, then stop flowering during the warmer months, and if care is taken, they will flower again in fall. 

Violet flowers have culinary use as they are edible and look lovely on baked goods or as garnishes on cold dishes. These small plants have attractive foliage and flowers in a wide range of colors and sizes, although the most common color is purple. The flowers are lightly fragrant, as well. 

Foamflower

Clusters of tall foamflowers, frothy and white, soak up the sunlight. Glossy green leaves shimmer beneath, mirroring the bright sunbeams. In the backdrop, a variety of lush foliage creates a vibrant tapestry of natural beauty.
With heart-shaped burgundy-variegated leaves, foamflower offers lush ground cover in shade.
botanical-name
botanical name


Tiarella cordifolia
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


12’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


3-9

One of the prettiest wildflowers that thrive in full shade, foamflower has lovely foliage with heart-shaped leaves that usually have burgundy variegation and veining. The foliage turns reddish-bronze in fall, giving the plant an additional season of interest. This makes a beautiful ground cover for shaded areas of the yard.

Foamflower is a winner of the Award of Garden Merit from the RHS, and it’s not hard to see why. In spring, atop reddish-brown stems, frothy white flowers tinged with pink bloom for about six weeks. These plants like rich, moist soil but need less water in winter, or issues with rot can arise

Virginia Bluebell

Clusters of delicate Virginia bluebell flowers bloom gracefully, their vivid blue hues popping against lush green foliage. Each tubular flower gently droops, creating an elegant cascade, drawing attention with its enchanting color and charmingly curved form.
This plant features ephemeral springtime blooms transitioning from pink to sky blue.
botanical-name
botanical name


Mertensia virginica
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


18”-24”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


3-8

Another winner of the Award of Garden Merit, Virginia bluebell is an ephemeral springtime wildflower that loves the shade. It has soft, green foliage and terminal clusters of the loveliest little flowers. The flowers bloom pink from pink buds and gradually turn sky blue once open. Flowers last for several weeks, drawing pollinators to the garden. 

Midsummer, the entire plant dies back to the ground, leaving space for annual bloomers. It is not picky about soil type but needs moisture and good drainage. Virginia Bluebell is one of few flowering plants that thrives in nearly complete shade.

Sapphire Flower

An exquisite purple sapphire flower, its petals delicately arranged, absorbs the sunlight's golden rays, casting a mesmerizing gleam. Surrounding it, lush emerald leaves showcase intricate veins, vivid hues accentuated by the sun's gentle touch.
Compact and mound-forming, sapphire flower boasts star-shaped, fragrant blooms.
botanical-name
botanical name


Browallia speciosa
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Full sun to partial shade
height
height


12”-18”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


10-11

Perennial in warmer climates, sapphire flower is also commonly known as bush violet for its blooms that are similar in appearance to the common violet. Attractive, star-shaped wildflowers in shades of blue, violet, and white are lightly fragrant and bloom for an extended period from early summer until the first frost. In cooler climates, this is planted as an annual but re-seeds itself

Sapphire Flower is a mound-forming plant, compact, with dark green foliage that complements the abundant flowers. It thrives in partial to full shade, so it works well in spaces where many plants survive. The tubular flowers are nectar-rich and attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. 

Lungwort

A cluster of blue and purple lungwort flowers, nestled on a delicate stem. Nearby buds, tinged with earthy brown hues, promise future blooms. A soft backdrop of blurred leaves adds depth and a sense of natural harmony.
An adaptable ground cover, lungwort features silver-spotted green leaves.
botanical-name
botanical name


Pulmonaria longifolia
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


1′-1.5′
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


3-9

Lungwort makes an excellent flowering ground cover in shaded or partially shaded areas of the garden. Mounds of deep green leaves are heavily spotted with silver blister variegation. It looks beautiful as a mass planting and has semi-evergreen foliage in mild climates. It does need rich, moist soil, but is otherwise very low maintenance and very hardy.

In late spring, Lungwort sends up flower spikes topped with dense clusters of pink buds that open to vibrant blue flowers. It is perennial even in very cold climates and is most commonly propagated by division. Divide clumps in spring for a more widely spaced appearance or leave them to form more dense mounds of this pretty plant. 

Leopard Plant

Leopard flowers, boasting slender yellow petals, bloom vibrantly on brown stems, showcasing nature's intricate beauty. The blurred background hints at a lush tapestry of muted green leaves, enhancing the flowers' vivid allure and natural habitat.
This thrives in shade gardens with large, colorful leaves and late summer blooms.
botanical-name
botanical name


Ligularia
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


3’-5’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


4-9

If you want a plant that makes a splash in the shade garden, Leopard Plant is a great option. The large, showy leaves form a dense clump, creating a beautiful mound with great texture. Some varieties have foliage that is green, and others have foliage in various shades of red and brown. Most have cocoa-colored stems upon which their flashy flowers bloom. 

This is a late summer bloomer, and the flowers vary from clusters of larger, daisy-like blooms to tall racemes holding a great many yellow flowers. Plant your Leopard Plant in fertile, reliably moist soil. Dappled shade is the ideal exposure for this wildflower and results in the healthiest plants. Give this plant a bit of shelter from strong winds as well, as strong winds can damage the flower spikes. 

Prairie Spiderwort

Purple prairie spiderwort flowers bloom amidst long, slender leaves, capturing the sunlight's golden embrace. The blurred background reveals a lush green tapestry, a serene canvas for the floral display.
With vibrant triangular purple flowers, prairie spiderwort prefers rich, moist soil for optimal growth.
botanical-name
botanical name


Tradescantia occidentalis
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Full sun to partial shade
height
height


1’-2’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


4-9

Prairie Spiderwort is a relative of the common houseplant Zebrina with similar flowers, though they are larger and more vigorous. Pretty, triangular, purple flowers bloom throughout the summer atop mounds of slender, grass-like leaves.

The flowers last only one day but are abundant, so the plant is nearly always in bloom during its season. This plant works in spaces that have full sun but will be happiest and bloom best when given at least partial shade. Blooming may be less robust in full shade, however. Rich, moist soil is perfect for this woodland understory plant. 

Astilbe

Sunlight bathes a cluster of tall, feathery purple astilbe flowers surrounded by lush green leaves. The delicate petals stand out, forming an elegant contrast against the lush foliage. Nature's beauty is captured in a harmonious blend of color and light.
Perfect for shade gardens, astilbe boasts fernlike foliage and stunning panicles of small flowers.
botanical-name
botanical name


Astilbe
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


up to 4’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


4-8

Astilbe might just be the perfect shade garden wildflower. The foliage is fern-like, sturdy, and sometimes marbled or variegated. Some varieties survive in full sun conditions but only in cooler climates. Other varieties prefer partial to full shade conditions and rich, moist, well-drained soil. Mulching around these and other moisture-loving plants holds moisture in the soil more effectively.

In mid to late summer, when other flowering plants are nearing the end of their blooming period, astilbe steals the show with its spectacular panicles of hundreds of small flowers. Some types have a weeping habit to their blooms, while others stand up straight, resembling torches. These flowers are excellent for cutting, and they dry beautifully. 

Ground Orchid

Purple ground orchids bloom delicately, their petals capturing the sunlight with rich hues. Surrounding them, tall, verdant leaves stretch gracefully, offering a verdant backdrop that complements the vivid blossoms' beauty in this botanical portrait.
Ideal for shadier spots, bletilla thrives in rich, moist soil with partial shade.
botanical-name
botanical name


Bletilla
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Full sun to partial shade
height
height


1’-2’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


6-9

This member of the orchid family is a wonderful wildflower for the shaded spots in your garden. It spreads by underground rhizomes and naturalizes under ideal conditions. While most orchids are epiphytes, Bletilla are terrestrial plants, and the roots are cold-hardy. Their spreading habit is slow, so there is little concern about crowding out other plants.

The foliage is bright green, pleated, and grass-like. The flowers are borne on tall stems in groups of 5-10 blooms. They resemble those of the Cattleya orchid and bloom in mid-summer for about six weeks, although my ground orchid retains its flowers for up to three months as a potted plant. Rich, moist soil and bright indirect light or partial shade are best for this orchid. 

Wood Anemone

Wood anemone flowers display delicate white petals surrounding yellow centers. Their slender brown stems provide sturdy yet flexible support, showcasing a graceful elegance. In the backdrop, a soft blur reveals a tapestry of lush leaves and blooming white flowers.
This is a low-maintenance woodland perennial native to eastern North America.
botanical-name
botanical name


Anemone
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Full sun to partial shade
height
height


6”-10”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


5-8

This low-growing woodland perennial is native to the eastern half of North America and spreads by rhizome, forming a lovely colony over time. It tolerates full sun to partial shade areas and likes moist, fertile soil with an acidic pH. This is a plant-it-and-forget-it type of plant as long as you get enough rain and the soil stays moist. It’s very low maintenance. 

There are a wide variety of different flower colors and petal forms among this group of shade-loving plants. The foliage is finely cut and highly ornamental, and the flowers appear on short stems in mid-spring. While they are shade plants, the flowers open only on sunny days and remain closed on cloudy or rainy days.

Wishbone Flower

Wishbone flowers present a striking display, boasting rich purple petals highlighted by deep, contrasting edges. The exquisite blooms are complemented by lush, verdant green leaves, creating a harmonious and visually captivating composition.
An annual plant, wishbone flower thrives in moist, well-drained soil.
botanical-name
botanical name


Torenia fournieri
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


6”-12”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


2-11

This bushy annual wildflower provides an abundance of color to the shade garden. The flowers are deep purple with a white throat and hints of yellow on the interior. They bloom along short stems alternating with light green foliage for an extended period. The flowers begin to bloom in early summer and continue until the first frost. 

Pinching the stems when the plant is young encourages branching and creates a denser plant with more flowers. It thrives best in partial to full shade, in moist, rich soil that is well-drained. It’s important to keep the roots of this plant cool, which can be done by applying a layer of mulch and ensuring that they get enough shade, especially in the afternoon. 

Cardinal Flower

Vibrant red cardinal flowers stand tall, basking in the sunlight. In the backdrop, a soft blur of lush, sunlit greenery provides a serene canvas, enhancing the flowers' fiery hue.
With varying colors and preferring partial shade, cardinal flowers need in moist soil.
botanical-name
botanical name


Lobelia
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial shade
height
height


up to 4’
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


5-8

Cardinal flower is a pretty perennial that brings pops of color to the summer garden. Flowers vary between varieties and are predominantly red, blue, or purple. There are creeping varieties, as well as taller, more upright types, all of which perform best in partial shade. They can survive in full sun if they get enough moisture, but this wildflower prefers afternoon shade

The flowers last from midsummer through frost, inviting pollinators to the garden. They prefer a location with ample moisture and deep, rich soil types. Propagate cardinal flower by seed or division, although seeds may not be true to the parent plant. Deadheading increases blooming vigor, and they should be cut back after blooming. 

Forget-Me-Not

A cluster of delicate, small forget-me-not flowers showcasing shades of soft blue. Behind the flowers, a soft blur of deep green leaves creates a serene backdrop, adding depth and contrast to the vivid blue blossoms.
Known for their rapid growth, forget-me-nots feature airy blue, pink, or white flowers.
botanical-name
botanical name


Myosotis
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Full sun to partial shade
height
height


6”-24”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


3-8

Fast-growing and rife with symbolism, forget-me-nots are highly recognizable for their ample clusters of airy blue flowers. The flowers are typically blue but can also be pink or white, depending on the species. The name Myosotis comes from the Greek word for mouse’s ear, which perfectly describes the shape of the petals. 

If allowed to spread, forget-me-not forms a dense carpet that bursts forth with an abundance of flowers from mid-spring through mid-summer. The foliage is deep green, lightly pubescent, and semi-evergreen. The warmer the climate, the more shade these plants appreciate. In cooler climates, they tolerate a significant amount of sun and bloom more prolifically. 

Barrenwort

Purple barrenwort petals, delicately woven in an intricate pattern, capture the eye with their mesmerizing hue. Nestled amidst the muted green leaves, the barrenwort's vibrant blossoms create a harmonious contrast.
Thriving in low-light, barrenwort’s slow, non-invasive spread makes it an ideal ground cover beneath trees.
botanical-name
botanical name


Epimedium
sun-requirements
sun requirements


Partial to full shade
height
height


8”-12”
hardiness-zones
hardiness zones


5-9

This shade-loving wildflower has a delicate appearance but is a rather tough little plant that thrives in low-light situations. The foliage is heart-shaped and bright green, with burgundy shading in the spring and sometimes the fall as well. The foliage is evergreen to semi-evergreen, depending upon the species, so in most cases, it looks attractive through the winter.

As ground cover beneath a tree canopy, it performs surprisingly well and requires no additional fertilizer to offset competition from the trees. It grows by slowly creeping rhizomes, so it spreads, but not quickly. Invasiveness is not an issue. The flower colors can be pink, red, orange, white, or yellow and appear in mid to late spring. 

Final Thoughts

All of these wonderful woodland wildflowers can be used to fill in the spaces in the garden where sun exposure is minimal and moisture is abundant. If you haven’t yet decided upon a shade garden, perhaps you may be persuaded by these intriguing plants. With so many beautiful shade-loving wildflowers, you’ll want to seek out a spot in the garden to build a stunning and quaint shade garden. 



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