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This prairie native bears nodding, pinkish-maroon flowers in spring, followed by seed heads that resemble wisps of cotton candy and connote the plant's common name. The upright, ferny foliage is beautiful, and can be evergreen in mild climates.
One of the oldest tree species on the planet, ginkgo grows only about a foot a year, reaching 50 to 80 feet. Female trees set fleshy fruit that smell unpleasant as they decay; they contain edible nuts.
If you dwarfed flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus, Zones 3–7) and sent it to finishing school, Japanese wood poppy would be the result. Birders will note that Glaucidium is also the name of a genus of owls, and gardeners may, ahem, hoot and flap when they see Japanese wood poppy in full bloom. This debutant may need a year or two to refine before flowering, but when it does, the coming-out party is a show of violet sepals. (White varieties are also available.) Naturally, it will wilt in the heat and will require shade and regular water. -Justin Nichols, #Fine Gardening 147 (October 2012), page 70
Honey locust grows in the wild from Pennsylvania to Iowa and south to Georgia and Texas. In the landscape, this large, spreading, deciduous tree is valuable for its elegant form and pinnate, ferny leaves that cast a dappled shade. Flowers are generally inconspicuous, but are followed by unusual large seed pods. Fall color can be a nice yellow, but leaves sometimes fall without noticeably changing colors. The species has a thorny trunk and shoots, but thornless cultivars are available.
Brightly variegated golden foliage with green stripes near the leaf margins give this Japanese forest grass its distinctive look. Too much shade can cause the golden portion to fade to lime green. This slow-growing may not reach a mature size for three years, but it is definitely worth the wait. -Matt Griswold, Regional Picks: Northeast, Fine Gardening issue #127
Carolina silverbell is a handsome tree with clean green foliage and an upright spreading habit. In mid- or late spring, hundreds of silvery-white bell-shaped flowers dangle from every branch before foliage emerges. The tree also has attractive bark, unusual four-winged seedpods, and yellow fall color.
This vase-shaped, deciduous shrub, up to 12 feet tall and wide, has ascending branches and bright green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. It produces large yellow flowers in mid- and late winter on the bare branches. A cross between H. japonica and H. mollis.
This witch hazel is an upright shrub up to 12 feet tall and wide, with oval, softly hairy, mid-green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. Fragrant flowers are yellow, with crimped petals, appearing on bare branches in mid- and late winter.
This vase-shaped deciduous shrub grows up to 12 feet tall and wide, with ascending branches and bright green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. Clusters of sulfur-yellow flowers appear in mid- and late winter.
The native common witch hazel is an understory plant that becomes leggy if it has to reach for light, but in the open, it develops into a graceful, spreading shrub about 20 feet tall. Its broad leaves turn a clear, bright yellow in the autumn. The abundance of pale yellow fall flowers that accompanies the foliage comes as a wonderful late-season surprise. The deceptively fragile-looking blossoms that appear near the end of October seem to keep winter at bay for weeks.
Sneezeweed is a clump-forming perennial with sturdy, branching stems and mid-green leaves. In August and September, masses of 2-inch, daisy-like yellow flowers are borne in large, loose terminal clusters on leafy 4- to 5-foot tall stems.
Sawtooth sunflower's abundant yellow daisy flowers bloom from late summer well into fall. The dark green, narrow leaves have a leathery gloss. A well-behaved plant, sawtooth sunflower forms a thick, slowly expanding clump. It can reach 10 feet and taller, depending on conditions.
Dramatic powder blue foliage and spiky architecture are hallmarks of this plant. The leaves resemble rigid, tapering pieces of steel blue linguine collected in a porcupine-like dome.
This clump-forming perennial bears striking, sunflower-like yellow blooms on long stalks from midsummer to early autumn.
'Summer Nights' has a clumping form, sturdy wine-purple stems, and bronze-tinted leaves. It bears striking deep golden-orange blooms with orange-red centers from June until August.
Year-round gray-green foliage persists through shade and snow and is fairly deer and rabbit resistant. Flowers appear in early spring with daffodils and tulips. This cultivar produces flowers that sit well above the foliage and point upward, which adds to its showiness.
From late fall through winter, the leathery leaves of hellebores stay glossy, cheery, and green. Hybrids of H. orientalis and other species have a clump-forming habit and leathery leaves. They begin blooming in February or March in a range of shades, adding much needed color very early in the season. The blooms last for a very long time, especially if the weather stays cool. Hellebores are tolerant of summer heat and humidity. -Marty Hair, Regional Picks: Upper Midwest, Fine Gardening issue# 127
Lime-green to near-yellow flowers 1 to 2 inches across, with five petal-like sepals, are borne in loose clusters of three or four on leafy stems up to 20 inches tall. Blooms emerge in late winter or early spring, fading to pale green and lasting until seeds are ripe. There is great variation in fragrance, flower color and size, as well as leaf form, across different plants.
Hellebores begin blooming in mid-winter in a range of colors, adding much needed color very early in the season. They bloom when the temperature is below freezing, even amidst the snow. Protect from cold winter winds, especially when not insulated by snow, to avoid damaged foliage. Avoid ingestion of all plant parts and contact with the sap.
This hairless or slightly hairy perennial has over-wintering, leathery, deep green basal leaves each divided into 7 or 9 leaflets. From January until May, masses of white or greenish-cream flowers, becoming pink with age, appear on branched stems.
Colorful Selections For Shade
With these striking plants, you'll never need to settle for a sea of green again
by Gene E. Bush
Forget the wallflower varieties - these 10 stars take center stage
by John O'Brien
Conifers for Shade
Yes, you can grow evergreen trees and shrubs in shade. Who knew?
by Christine Froehlich
10 Combinations for Shade
The secret is in using color to pump up the interest in low-light spots
by Inta Krombolz
Bringing Sun and Shade Together
Show off what these extremes have to offer, then unite them with some common ground
by Dan Johnson
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