Early Meadow-rue: native ground cover for shade

Early meadow-rue.

The dancing, delicate foliage of early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum) makes this one of my favorite native plants for shady gardens. It is easy to grow, not very tall, and spreads gently, making it the ideal candidate for a ground cover. Additionally, it starts into growth early. A hot, dry summer can scorch the pretty leaves, but it will usually make fresh new growth in the fall. The flowers, male and female on separate plants, are small and tremble in the breeze. They are not very showy, which is actually a good feature in a ground cover, as it allows your starring flowers to shine without competition.

Early meadow-rue persists in woodlots which are over-run with deer and where all the tasty liliaceous flowers have long since disappeared, so it must be at least partially resistant to deer. It is in the family Ranunculacea, or buttercup family, which has some famously toxic members: buttercups themselves, monkshoods, and others.

Early meadow-rue thrives on heavy soil and its height will vary considerable with the moisture supply in the ground. It can be about 16 inches high in a moist swale in the woods. In most gardens it will grow no more than 10 inches high.

The showier tall meadow-rue is the better known native, perhaps because it fits better with our idea of what a meadow-rue should be. The non-native garden meadow-rues are tallish plants grown for their flowers. I think you will like pretty little early meadow-rue when you get to know it.

Published by

Trish Murphy

Artist: botanical, still life, and natural history illustration. Garden designer: native plants and naturalistic gardens