A Bit of Winter Green in the Southeast

The leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees and the winter rain has mashed them into the ground. A soft grey mist floats among the bare branches, turning the landscape into a blur of brown. The landscape is sleeping but my eyes search for something … something green.  

misty forest 2966a

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) decorate the winter forest

In the quiet of winter, green plants in the southeast are a welcome sight. They are a beacon of life in what can be a very brown time. And of course they are good shelter for birds and help to provide a bit of privacy.

We are fortunate to have a good selection of native evergreen plants to use in the landscape, from perennials to shrubs to vines and, of course, trees. Here are a few of the ones you might consider if you are looking to add some winter green to your landscape.


Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) is a lovely yellow-flowering ground cover; partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) offers bright red berries in winter; the leaves of beetleweed (Galax urceolata) bronze to a rich mix of green and burgundy; ground orchids like Tipularia discolor and Goodyera pubescens delight you with the thought that you are growing orchids outside; evergreen gingers (Hexastylis spp.) bravely hold green leaves above the leaf litter; Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides) and ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron) ferns are so hardy; and patches of moss glisten when revealed among the fallen leaves.

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) looks like this in winter!

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) looks like this in winter!


Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) likes shade and moist conditions; Florida leucothoe (Agarista populifolia) is my go-to deer-resistant shrub for part-sun; dwarf wax myrtle (Morella cerifera var. pumila) is great for full sun; dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a bit of a meatball but looks better if you avoid the pruners; creeping pieris (Pieris phillyreifolia) is surprisingly garden-worthy considering where it grows naturally (swamps); inkberry (Ilex glabra) is so handsome; mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) cultivars mean so many choices; and Rhododendron is perfect for that eastern side of the house.

Rhododendron hybrid

Rhododendrons bloom in spring but stay green all winter.


Thank goodness for so many native pine trees – they keep the green front and center (Pinus spp.); eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) is not a cedar at all; the festive American holly (Ilex opaca) has red berries and green leaves (well the female does); Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) has glossy leaves; southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is very regal; wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) in tree form provides fragrant small berries (female, again); and our native hemlocks (Tsuga spp.) gracefully anchor our shade gardens.

juniper 2963a

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) is still used by some people as a Christmas tree.

So if you love a bit of green come winter, select some of these great native plants to be a part of your landscape. For more posts on evergreen plants in the southeast, check here.

© 2013, Ellen Honeycutt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Susan says

    Unfortunately one of the things that is still green in our woods (now under the snow) is the horribly invasive garlic mustard. Interesting how most of the worst invasives are the first to leaf out in the spring and the last to lose leaves or die back in the fall/winter.


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