Spring-Blooming Woodland Flowers for Shade

Although trees rule the forest, a host of herbaceous and flowering plants thrive in the gentle, dappled shade and moist, rich soil on the forest floor. They are perfect to use in a natural woodland garden or a shady spot in your yard.

Many of these spring-blooming, shade-loving, woodland perennial flowers bloom for a longer period of time than spring bulbs or flowering trees. Some varieties bloom for weeks or months, adding their quiet beauty to that of the short-lived spring bulbs and flowering trees.

Bloodroot: Native to North American forests, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) grows best in partially to fully shaded woodlands with moist, acidic soil, as long as it is well-drained. Bloodroot is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 9.

A member of the poppy family, bloodroot blooms in late March and April. It grows a single, 8-inch wide basal leaf with the flower growing on a separate stalk. Its single, white flowers with yellow centers each last only one or two days.

Bloodroot is so-named because its roots exude a red juice when they are cut or broken. Its namesake roots have long been used to produce red, pink and orange dyes. Native Americans used it to treat fever, rheumatism, ulcers and skin infections.

Lenten Rose: The Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) forms a bush-like perennial plant. Beginning in late March and continuing through April into May, it produces delicate flowers that resemble single roses in shades of creamy white, pink, red, or deep purple.

Lenten rose prefers partial shade and fertile, moist, well-drained soil. It will grow and perform best when protected from harsh winter winds. Although it is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, it does best when provided with a protective winter mulch.

Unlike most perennials, Lenten rose rarely needs digging up and dividing. It will happily grow and bloom every spring in the same spot for up to 20 years.

New York Fern: A woodland fern growing to a height of 2 feet, New York fern (Thelpteris novaboracensis) grows a tight mass of upright fronds. The yellow-green blades taper gradually at each end and are deeply pinnatified with up to 32 blunt segments.

This variety of fern grows well in moist soil that is rich in humus, in either sun or shade. New York fern spreads with a long, creeping rhizome root. It can become aggressive when grown under ideal conditions. Deciduous in cold northern areas and evergreen in warm southern areas, New York fern is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.

Wild Columbine: Also called American columbine or dancing fairies, wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) grows 2 feet tall in dry, shaded woodland areas or rocky open slopes. It is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8.

The flowers have pink outer petals, which lay flat. Yellow, bell-shaped, centers protrude above the flat, pink, outer petals. The 1- to 2-inch flowers hang down in a nodding fashion. They bloom from April through July.

Although considered medicinally unsafe today, Native Americans used wild columbine to treat a variety of maladies, including headaches and fevers. Added to a lotion, wild columbine was applied topically to calm skin rashes and inflammation from poison ivy.