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10 Shade Loving Australian Native Plants

Regardless of the reason for your lack of direct sunlight, there’s likely a native plant that can bring life and colour to that space.

For gardening enthusiasts who have the common challenge of shaded areas, there’s good news: not all Australian native plants demand full sun to flourish.

In fact, many thrive in the dappled light of a forest understory or the cool, shadowed nooks of urban gardens.

Regardless of the reason for your lack of direct sunlight, there’s likely a native plant that can bring life and colour to that space.

In this guide, I’ve listed some of my favourite Aussie natives that are both beautiful and perfectly suited for those less sunlit areas of your garden.

Acacia verniciflua (Varnish Wattle) 

Acacia verniciflua Varnish Wattle | Native plants
Acacia verniciflua / Photo by Melburnian / Wikimedia / CC BY 3.0

For those gardeners who love wattles as much as I do, this species will grow and flower happily in the shade. It has shiny willowy foliage and beautiful pom-pom-type yellow flowers in spring.

This wattle can grow into a small tree and reach a height of around 9 metres. However, it’s unlikely to grow this tall when planted in a shady spot in the garden.

As with most wattles, this plant is hardy and will handle most soil types.

Alpinia caerulea (Native Redback Ginger)

Alpinia caerulea Native Redback Ginger | Native plants
Alpinia caerulea

This is an interesting native plant that grows well in a shady position in the garden. It has glossy golden-green leaves that are rusty red on the undersides. 

This allows you to add some foliage colour to your shady garden areas. The plant produces creamy-white flowers and these are followed by dark blue berries that are loved by birds.

This is a lovely clumping plant and the stems can be trimmed right down to the ground if your plant becomes a little untidy. New shoots will grow again from the underground rhizomes.

Asplenium australasicum (Bird’s Nest Fern)

Asplenium australasicum Birds Nest Fern | Native plants
Asplenium australasicum

Anyone who lives in Queensland will be familiar with the bird’s nest fern. But, these beauties will also grow in warm and cool temperate areas around the country.

If you have a large shady spot to fill, these stunning ferns can add quite a dramatic statement to your garden. Although epiphytic, they will grow in moist but well-drained soil and are perfect for planting under trees or among rocks in your garden.

However, you can often find this native fern mounted on a board at local nurseries or garden centres. These can easily be attached to a large tree or to a fence. 

Bird’s nest ferns can also be grown in large containers that you can place out among your trees. Just make sure you use a good well-draining mix suitable for these plants.

Dianella caerulea (Blue Flax Lily)

Dianella caerulea Blue Flax Lily 1 | Native plants
Dianella caerulea

This is another easy-care plant that will grow well in the shade. It’s a clumping perennial with strappy green leaves.

Dianella caerulea will produce tallish stems with small bright blue flowers in spring and summer. These are followed by blue berries that are loved by birds. 

As with other plants that grow from underground rhizomes, it can be cut back quite severely and will quickly resprout.

Did you know?

Many native Australian plants are adapted to low-nutrient soils, especially low in phosphorus.

Over-fertilising, particularly with high phosphorus fertilisers, can harm these plants. It’s best to use a slow-release, low-phosphorus fertiliser, specifically formulated for native plants.

We recommend this native fertiliser from Amgrow, designed to promote healthy root growth, lush foliage, and increased flowering, without overwhelming native species.

Dicksonia antarctica (Soft Tree Fern)

Dicksonia Antarctica Soft Tree Fern | Native plants
Dicksonia antarctica

This lovely tree fern is just perfect for a shady spot in your garden. It will grow a nice trunk that will continue to reach upwards. 

This is a particularly hardy and low-maintenance species that will just continue to thrive in your garden as long as it gets enough moisture.

The only maintenance that you’ll have to do is cut off the dead fronds. This can easily be done with a pair of secateurs or loppers. Try to cut them as close to the trunk as possible.

Helmholtzia glaberrima (Stream Lily)

Helmholtzia glaberrima Stream Lily | Native plants
Helmholtzia glaberrima

If you’re looking for a native plant that will flower well in the shade, have a look at the stream lily. It has beautiful dark green strappy leaves and large panicles of pretty pink or white flowers.

The flowers appear in summer and the plant can reach a height of up to 2 metres. It grows from underground rhizomes and can also be grown in pots.

You can cut off dead or damaged foliage at the base and new leaves will appear. If the clump gets too large, you can easily dig it up and divide it into smaller sections.

Hymenosporum flavum ‘Gold Nugget’ (Native Frangipani)

Native Frangipani Hymenosporum flavum 3 | Native plants
Hymenosporum flavum

If you’re looking for a dense understory plant, then this native frangipani cultivar might be a good choice. It only reaches a height and width of around 0.5 metres.

The leaves are large and glossy and the plant produces lovely scented yellow flowers in summer. This cultivar will grow well in a range of different climates but should be protected from frosts.

Libertia paniculata (Branching Grass Flag)

Libertia paniculata Branching Grass Flag | Native plants
Libertia paniculata / Photo by Allthingsnative / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

This is another plant that has strappy leaves and will flower in shady positions in the garden. In spring and summer, the plant produces attractive star-shaped white flowers. 

This is a great understory plant in areas that have fairly moist soil. As it grows from underground rhizomes, it will easily spread.

Although it’s an Australian rainforest plant, it will grow in warm and cool temperate areas and can tolerate light frosts.

Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’ (Mat Rush)

Lomandra longifolia Spiney Headed Mat Rush | Native plants
Lomandra longifolia / Photo by Peterdownunder / Wikimedia (cropped) / CC BY-SA 3.0

I just love the hardiness of lomandra and this particular cultivar is quite outstanding in its appearance. It will handle a shady spot in your garden but can also handle some sun.

To keep your Mat Rush looking neat, you can easily give it a tidy-up once a year by removing the spent flower stalks and any dead foliage. 

Viola hederacea (Native Violet)

Viola hederacea | Native plants
Viola hederacea

I’ve written a lot about the native violet as it’s one of my favourite natives to plant in shady spots in the garden.

It’s one of those plants that needs minimal care and will spread along the ground to cover large areas over a period of time.

FAQ

Can grevilleas grow in shade?

Many grevillea species prefer to grow in a sunny spot in the garden. But, there are some species that will handle a partly shady spot. These include Grevillea sherissii, Grevillea oleodies and Grevillea sericea.

Can kangaroo paws grow in shade?

Most kangaroo paw species will prefer a sunny spot to thrive. However, they will grow in a partly shaded spot but may not flower as well as those grown in the sun.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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