Wild Ones   Wild Ones Archive 2002, Jul 24:  
  Ques #9: Plants Under Maple Trees  

Wild Ones 2002 Archive


    I was surprised at the hostess' statement that creeping phlox is not native. Of course, the first question is what do you mean by creeping phlox. Here in northern Virginia, we mean Phlox stolonifera, which is native here. Gleason & Cronquist say its range is "PA and south to GA" which could well include Louisville. On the other hand, sweet woodruff (Gallium odoratum) is listed as from Europe, and yes, it can get invasive.

    I, too, have struggled to find something that will grow under a red maple. After years of applying leaf mulch, I'm starting to have some success with Sedum ternatum, Viola canadensis (looks better for longer than most common purple violets) and Senecio aureus/Golden ragwort. Golden ragwort is kind of a desperation measure, with real invasive potential, but it is evergreen and if deadheaded religiously can be controlled.

    Dicentra exima/wild bleeding heart hasn't died, but isn't spreading at all. Some of the Carex species do all right, but I'm not good enough at identifying to tell you who they are.

    --Margaret of Falls Church, VA

    It helps to know what kind of maple trees you are talking about. The Norway maple, an alien species from Europe, makes such dense shade that nothing but buckthorn and garlic mustard (both terrible weeds) will grow under it. The best solution is wood chips and maybe a few native wildflowers or ground covers near the edge where more light is present. They will spread back under in the shade if they are able.

    Wild ginger, Asarum canadense, is great for dense shade. Also Impatiens pallida or Impatiens capensis. Another good ground cover is Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinqufolia, which will climb up the tree trunks too. Mayapple, three-leaf stonecrop, work most times too.

    -- Pat of Naperville, IL

    I beg to differ with our hostess, creeping phlox (phlox stolonifera)IS an eastern woodlands native and does fine under maples. My strategy in dealing with 2 Norway maples was suggested by Ann Lovejoy. I made a strip of raised bed, composed of compost and humus approximately 3 feet wide, 6 inches high and 5 feet out from the base of the tree. I was able to plant a number of plants successfully, including the maligned phlox, Virginia bluebells, dicentra eximia the native bleeding heart, tiarella cordifolia, twinleaf, violets (there are 70 native species to choose from) heuchera and others. The trick is to give the plants an area of non-competition. Don't dig or disturb the maples roots and don't smother them. By the time the maple roots invade your raised bed, the plants will
    be well established. Do expect to water.

    -- Jennifer of Port Washington, NY

    A few other suggestions for "what to grow" under maple trees. I'm in the U.P. of Michigan & have a large, beautiful sugar maple in one corner of a native garden that I'm working on. I've successfully transplanted wild lily of the valley (Maianthemum canadense), starflower(Trientalis borealis), and Canada bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). They've only been planted there for about a year, but I expect that the bunchberry will slowly spread, as it is rhyzominous, and am hopeful that the other two will self-seed. I mulch the area with shredded maple leaves, or just let the leaves lie where they fall in the autumn.

    These are plants that all grow in my maple forest - where I dug them up. Don't know that you could find these plants commercially available, but if are in the zone where these plants grow & can find a rescue site....Local ferns also work well under maples - again, I've transplanted ferns from similar sites on my own property. Mostly spinulose shield fern, but also a few ostrich feather.

    -- Lauri of Carlshend, MI


    The predominant plant growing under a four acre sugar maple grove that we had in Shawano County, WI was the Eastern Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) .

    -- Jeanne of Chesterfield, MO

    There are very good articles on Norway Maples in particular on many web sites. But mainly I see it taking over Doctors Park in Milwaukee, and no awareness let alone plans to halt the destruction.

    Wendy of Milwaukee, WI

    I believe the hostess is mistaken in stating that Rhododendrons are not native to North America. According the One of the Rhodie sites I found: "North American species include the great laurel, or rose bay (R. maximum), West Virginia's state flower; and the Western rhododendron (R. macrophyllum), Washington's state flower." I used to live in Washington State, there are towering understory Rhodies in the forests.

    Note from hostess: my previous note said Rhododendrons were not native to ALL of North America.

    -- Laura of Allegan, MI

    The key is to determine if it is a Norway maple because its root system emits a chemical like walnuts that only a few native plant species will grow under it. It is also important to identify the tree because in some areas, especially here in the East, the Norway maple is considered invasive and has invaded the woodlands. The best bet would be as one person suggested is to mulch it well and put a bench, hammock and/or bird bath under it.

    -- Rebecca of Harrisburg, PA

    Try Barren Strawberry.

    -- Diane of Evanston, IL

    Perhaps the question is not so much what will grow under Maple trees, for I have seen plenty of Bloodroot and Mayapple under the Maple-Beech forests here in SW OH, but rather a question of what grows in the area you are planting naturally. By this I guess I mean what grew there on its own as you say the Baneberry has done. Often there are fungi mycelial inteactions, water requirements, pH requirements and the like which are the culprit when we cannot get something to grow where we want it. But when we see what wants to grow there we know what should. Good luck with the Baneberry.

    -- Donna of Cincinnati, OH
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Ques #14: Aggressive Native Plants

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