Woodland Plants for Next Year

Bobbi Little
Adams County Master Gardener

If you are looking for some unusual partial shade perennials for next year, keep reading. The plants mentioned in this article wonít be the powerhouses of color that annuals are, but they will give you something extraordinary, natural, subtle, and best of all, native to our area of Pennsylvania and Maryland. The three plants are Dollís Eyes, Black Cohosh, and Blue Cohosh. If you get serious about planting them, you might need their botanical names, which Iíll mention in the next paragraph.

In previous articles, other master gardeners covered the reasons for using botanical names. At first they may seem overwhelming to work with, but they do point to a specific plant, unlike the common names Iíve listed above. In fact, some of these plants have multiple common names, so call them whatever you prefer, but if you want to order online or from a catalog, use the botanical names to be sure you get the correct plants. Donít worry about trying to remember the name, let alone trying to pronounce it. As master gardeners, we are taught that if we make an attempt at pronouncing a name, however we say it is perfectly fine. Most master gardeners havenít studied Latin in depth, if at all, but we give it a try. Try using the phonetics you learned in second grade and you canít go wrong.

Letís start with Dollís Eyes, also known as White Baneberry. The botanical name is Actaea pachypoda. This plant develops a cluster of pretty white berries with magenta stems and grows to about 18 inches high. The foliage makes it look like an everyday woodland plant until you see its very unusual berries. There is a black spot on the berry that makes it look like a dollís eye. The berries last quite a few weeks starting in late spring. They are highly poisonous to humans, but not to birds, who will do a great job dispensing them elsewhere. The plant thrives in slightly acidic, moist soil in shade to part shade, yet tolerates slightly dry soils. I planted mine in the woods, just before the pine trees shading them were cut down. They are getting less shade than I think they should, but theyíre doing fine. They see sun the entire morning and perhaps more. Between the foliage and the berries, they blend in with the rest of the woods except for the small fences around them for protection from animals. Small plants like that can easily become part of a deer buffet if they arenít protected. Iím not sure if the deer like to eat them or not, but Iím not taking chances till a few more years have passed. They are beautiful plants and yes, they look tacky with wire fences around them, but at least they havenít been eaten.

Doll's Eye

Even tackier are the pink flags that are temporarily marking the 30 small azaleas and rhododendrons newly planted this year under a pine stand, but this is a fantastic way to find them in a naturalized setting. When they need water or to see how they are faring, I can easily find them since they blend into the pines so easily. The flags are made of metal holding a bright pink flag and are used to mark utilities. My husband and I had a horrendous thunderstorm in May causing significant electrical damage. He told me that all the pink flags sticking up on metal stems were mini lightning rods that drew the lightning to the house. He is kidding. Better be. It actually hit the ground near a giant oak tree since you could see the divot at its base. It shot up the tree via the trumpet vine, also a native plant that was climbing on it. The oak is fine for now, but the trumpet vine was blasted into oblivion. Talk about a blessing in disguise! This plant is very aggressive, but is great for attracting good insects and hummingbirds with its wonderful orange flowers. I didnít want it to be so prolific in this spot. It drops seeds which come up everywhere you donít want them. Trumpet vines are beautiful where they can grow all by themselves and have plenty of space.

Letís get back to our three plants. The second one is black cohosh, also known as bugbane, fairy candle, and snakeroot. Its botanical name is Cimifuga racemosa and it is native to eastern North America from Ontario to Georgia. Typically found in woodland openings, the foliage grows to about 36 inches tall with a bloom that appears between June and September, appearing as a thin flower cluster shooting out of the plant like a snake and growing up to 8 feet. Mine stands at about 5 feet. The flower lasts for many weeks over the summer and towers over the foliage, but still remains very delicate looking. After the blooms dry, you will still have an attractive seed head well into the fall. Black cohosh grows in moist to dry soil and likes partial shade. Youíll see butterflies and beneficial insects visiting it. I am not finding pH requirements for this plant, but mine is located in a rather neutral pH soil. I would think it prefers somewhat acidic since it is more of a woodland plant. Black cohosh is an herb used by the Native Americans because of its sedative, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is used today to help treat symptoms of menopause, though the treatment is controversial as to its effectiveness.

The third woodland plant is blue cohosh, whose botanical name is Caulophyllum thalictroides. It is completely unrelated to black cohosh though they share similar common names. The best part of this plant is the little blue-purple berries that appear in the summer. It grows 12-36 inches tall, prefers average to moist soil, and likes part shade to part sun, tending to grow on the edge of the woods. Blooming takes place in April or May. Soil PH should be 4.5 to 7, so acidic soil is best for it. I would not put these in an oak tree forest since those trees suck up any available moisture. Plants like this seem to do well under pine trees, but the acidity is probably the most important requirement along with the moisture level. Blue cohosh was used by the Native Americans as a medicinal herb to help induce labor.

Where can you find these plants? Itís best to visit some of the local nurseries that carry natives as many seem to be carrying them more and more. I always support the local vendors who sell natives to encourage them to buy more and it also provides a chance to see the plant. The master gardeners of Adams County have a list of nurseries that carry natives if you ask for it. If you canít find a specific plant, sometimes they will be available during the master gardener plant sales twice a year, both in Adams or York Counties. If you canít find them at these places, type the botanical name into the internet and you can find online sources that will ship them to you.

Read other articles on garden and landscape design

Read other articles by Bobbi Little