Shady characters you’ll want to know (Part 1): meet six indigenous shade-loving plants

Written by Catherine Browne

So perhaps you are faced with a shady space in your garden or courtyard or those trees are casting more shadows than they used to? Not to worry, here we share with you about gorgeous shade-loving indigenous varieties you can add to your garden.

There is more to consider than one may think at first. There are three different types of shade: semi- shade (shade for part of the day); part- sun or dappled through trees; and full shade. One also needs to consider whether an area is wet or dry shade when thinking of what to plant there.  The selection we share here are mostly water-wise options as we encourage indigenous and water-wise gardening.

Three indigenous plants for dry shade:

  • Dietes bicolor (Yellow wild iris) Better known as a sun plant, but this water-wise Iridaceae is actually tolerant of fairly deep shade. It elongates a little more in the shade, but remains more green opposed to the more lime yellow leaves you see in sun grown plants. A delicate flower that only lasts a day, but due to it having multiple buds, the plant is almost always in flower from October to January (spring and summer). Enjoys dry to wet shade. Aren’t they simply stunning?!
Dietes bicolor. Colin Ralston
© Colin Ralston
  • Hypoestes aristata (Ribbon bush) A top choice for your garden, easy to grow and truly beautiful. Something to prettify your garden through winter, as it flowers from May right the way through winter until early spring. All sorts of goggas (bees, flies and insects) are attracted to the nectar of these flowers, and in turn they attract insectivorous birds. Yay for more biodiversity being drawn into your gardens!
Hypoestes aristata 'Purple Haze' SL Turner 6-7-97
© SL Turner
  • Crassula multicava subspecies multicava  (Fairy crassula) They do look like little fairies dancing in your garden, don’t they? This is a wonderful self-perpetuating low maintenance groundcover. Flowers freely and young plantlets are produced off the old inflorescences. Water wise and tolerant of a wide range of soil and light exposures from shade to full sun. Very easy to propagate and tip cuttings of the plants can be planted straight into the ground. Shade- loving succulents are far and few between, but this one offers a delightful floral display that’ll brighten a shady area. They work well in hanging baskets, pots or planted en masse in flower beds, enjoying dry to wet shade.
Crassula multiclava (5) Monique Mcquillan
© Monique Mcquillan

Three indigenous plants for wet shade:

  • Mackaya bella (Forest bell bush) Butterflies will flock to these beauties. Free flowering shrub, endemic to southern Africa, it will grow in deep shade, and it has lovely glossy green foliage when not in flower. A very long lived neat shrub. Available commercially at many nurseries in South Africa, this plant makes a lovely pot plant or alternately a great screening plant in a semi-shaded area. It tends to like wet shade but will tolerate dry spells.
Mackaya bella (2) Monique Mcquillan
© Monique Mcquillan
  • Zantedeschia aethiopica  (Arum lily) A traditional and familiar gem. Although commonly known as an Arum lily, this plant is neither an Arum (the genus Arum) nor a lily (genus Lilium). The genus Zantedeschia is restricted to Africa and was and has been marvelled at by many, for years. Interestingly it was sent to Europe as one of the interesting flowers of the Cape by Simon van der Stel sometime before 1697. It offers simple elegance and is often used symbolically for representing purity. The flowers are faintly scented to attract insect pollinators. Great in pots, in the ground, and long lasting as cut flowers too- but remember they love water.
Zanthedeschia aethiopica Paul Oudendaal
© Paul Oudendaal
  • Chlorophytum comosum (Hen & chickens/ spider plant) A commonly cultivated house plant. Lovely in pots, hanging baskets or dense stands of groundcover under trees. Highly decorative and effective at combatting eroding embankments.
Chlorophytum comosum-hankey
© Andrew Hankey

Information sources:


SANBI Kirstenbosch horticulture unit

We hope that you have learnt something or were perhaps inspired to select some indigenous shady characters to add to your garden. Who knows, perhaps you’ve learnt something about the plants already out there in the shadows and beneath the trees in your green space. BotSoc promotes an appreciation and nurturing of biodiversity and encourages water wise indigenous gardening. Happy green fingers!

Please get to know us better, we’d love to get to know you! You can find out all about the Botanical Society of South Africa on our website; perhaps you’d like to follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter; or please follow this blog to ensure you receive the latest blogs sharing on a range of topics. Have a great day!

Until next time…


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The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) are an NGO conserving and educating about biodiversity for over 100 years.

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