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What are the Different Types of Shade Perennials?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated May 17, 2024
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The different types of shade perennials include astilbe, hostas, coral bells, and lungwort. All of these perennials have several varieties and are known for both their foliage and flowers. A perennial plant blooms every year and new plants do not have to be purchased and planted every year like annuals. Shade perennials grow best in moist conditions and are most often used as a ground cover in areas where other plants won't thrive.

Astilbe is one of the hardiest shade perennials and grows in a large variety of species. The most notable reason gardeners choose to plant astilbe is the prolific bloom production. Most shade perennials produce only a small number of blooms each year due to the limited sun the plants receive. Astilbe, however, produces several large triangle-shaped blooms per plant even in full shade. Mature plants can grow as tall as 5 feet (1.5 m) so astilbe should be planted at the back of the landscape area to prevent overshadowing shorter plants.

Hostas are another popular shade perennial available in a nearly endless variety. Though hostas do bloom with a tall thin stalk which supports a single white flower, they are cultivated more for their stunning leaves. Hostas are a bushy plant that produces broad oval-shaped leaves. The foliage ranges from a pale lime green to a deep forest green and some leaves are also variegated. Many gardeners plant multiple varieties of hostas to provide visual interest to their landscape.

Coral bells are a shade perennial indigenous to the southwestern United States. Known for their coral colored flowers, the coral bells plant grows into tall thin stalks that are nearly completely covered in tiny bell shaped blossoms. The leaves are edible and their tart taste is sometimes used in greens to enhance the flavor. Coral bells are also grown in landscape areas that do not get much moisture due to their ability to thrive in nearly drought conditions.

A lesser known type of shade perennial is lungwort. Lungwort is native to Europe and parts of Asia and is named lungwort because the spotted leaves are thought to resemble diseased lungs. The stems of the lungwort have prickly hairs and the flowers form in clusters at the top of the stalk. Some varieties produce several colors of flowers on the same plant. Most gardeners use lungwort shade perennials because the spotted leaves are so different than most other shade perennials and the flowers varied hues are typically attractive to butterflies.

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