9 Understory Plants for a Permaculture Garden


Permaculture gardening is all about creating sustainable and harmonious ecosystems that work in tandem with nature. One essential aspect of permaculture is the use of understory plants. These low-growing, shade-tolerant plants play a crucial role in enhancing biodiversity, improving soil health, and creating a resilient garden. In this article, we’ll explore nine understory plants that are perfect additions to your permaculture garden.

What Are Understory Plants?

Before diving into the specific plants, let’s understand what understory plants are. Understory plants are those that thrive in the shaded areas beneath taller trees and shrubs. They are an integral part of a forest ecosystem, providing numerous benefits such as erosion control, habitat for wildlife, and improved soil structure.

1. Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

Wild ginger is a shade-loving perennial herb that adds a unique touch to your garden. Its heart-shaped leaves and distinctive, maroon-brown flowers make it a visually appealing choice. Wild ginger is not only an attractive ground cover but also a useful medicinal herb, known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

The lady fern is a delicate and graceful addition to your garden. With its feathery fronds and lacy appearance, it adds a touch of elegance to shaded areas. Lady ferns are excellent at improving soil quality and are highly adaptable to various soil types.

3. Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Foamflower, also known as heartleaf foamflower, is prized for its charming white or pinkish flowers that resemble foam. This perennial plant is a favorite among pollinators and is ideal for attracting bees and butterflies to your garden. Its heart-shaped leaves and compact growth habit make it an excellent ground cover.

4. Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

Solomon’s Seal is a classic woodland plant known for its arching stems and dangling, bell-shaped flowers. This plant’s unique growth pattern adds a touch of drama to your garden, making it an eye-catching choice. Solomon’s Seal is also used in traditional medicine for its potential anti-inflammatory and healing properties.

5. Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia)

The wild bleeding heart is a charming perennial that produces dainty, heart-shaped flowers in shades of pink and white. It thrives in the shade and is a favorite of hummingbirds. Planting wild bleeding hearts not only adds color but also attracts beneficial wildlife to your permaculture garden.

6. Hosta (Hosta spp.)

Hostas are known for their stunning foliage, which comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. These hardy plants are perfect for shaded areas and are prized for their low maintenance. Hostas can also help control erosion and provide a lush, green carpet in your garden.

7. Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Wild geranium, also known as spotted geranium, is a native perennial that blooms with attractive pink to lavender flowers. It’s an excellent choice for naturalizing your garden and provides nectar for pollinators. Wild geraniums are known for their drought tolerance, making them a resilient choice.

8. Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica)

Virginia bluebell is a true springtime gem with its striking blue, bell-shaped flowers. These plants are excellent for adding a burst of color to your garden early in the season. They’re also beneficial for bees and other pollinators, contributing to a healthy garden ecosystem.

9. Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit is a unique and fascinating plant that can serve as a conversation starter in your garden. Its hood-like structure sheltering a spike, or “Jack,” inside makes it an intriguing addition. These plants are often found in the wild and can add a touch of wild beauty to your permaculture garden.


Incorporating understory plants into your permaculture garden is a wise decision that enhances biodiversity, supports wildlife, and improves the overall health of your garden ecosystem. The nine plants mentioned in this article are not only visually appealing but also contribute to the sustainability and vitality of your garden.

Now that you have a better understanding of these understory plants, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start planting. By doing so, you’ll create a vibrant and thriving permaculture garden that benefits both you and the environment.


  1. Are understory plants difficult to care for?
  • Not at all! Most understory plants are low-maintenance and thrive in shaded areas, making them a great addition to any garden.
  1. Can I grow these plants in containers?
  • While some understory plants can be grown in containers, they are best suited for planting directly in the ground to mimic their natural habitat.
  1. Do understory plants attract pests?
  • Understory plants are less likely to attract pests, as they are adapted to shade and have natural defenses against common garden pests.
  1. Can I use understory plants in a sunny garden?
  • While understory plants prefer shade, some can tolerate partial sun. Be sure to check the specific requirements of each plant before planting in a sunny area.
  1. What are some companion plants for understory species?
  • Ferns, hostas, and wild bleeding hearts often complement each other well in a shaded garden, creating a harmonious and visually appealing landscape.

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