It’s easy to love the woodland spring ephemeral flowers – the Bluebells, Bloodroots, Bluets, and Trilliums. But what about plants that persist in the shade after the ephemerals are gone?

Early Meadowrue

One option worth considering is Early Meadowrue (Thalictrum dioicum). We have just one of these, which I plunked onto a tree-stump planter. It was kind of a random purchase, but I’ve grown to increasingly appreciate it.

Early Meadowrue flowers

Early Meadowrue blooms in spring but the foliage stays put all year. A roughly 2′ tall mound, it’s a useful size for the woodland garden.

Early Meadowrue flowers – a little closer.

The flowers are perhaps not beautiful but they are interesting, and worth a closer look. The male flowers have dangling yellow-green stamens (male and female flowers are on separate plants). I’ve read that the stamens can also be more purple, but haven’t seen that myself.

Early Meadowrue summer foliage. Photo from Prairie Moon Nursery

The foliage is attractive, I think. Some people call it ferny but it reminds me of Columbine or maybe just green dots with its little leaflets.

Anyhow, an alternative or companion to Ferns or Wild Ginger that’s worth considering.

31 Comments on “A Unique and Useful Woodland Native”

  1. I too find this a timely suggestion. Last Friday I had a great deal of work done in my yard to turn more of the grass areas into garden beds. I have two shade beds under a massive tulip poplar and have been researching plants to try for the summer months. The foliage on this is lovely. I imagine it is pretty when a breeze moves through.

    Hope all is going well with you, your family and your cats. Hopefully too your area missed the cold snap we are experiencing at the moment here in central IN. It was 27* last night with 30* forecast for tonight. As icing on that frozen cake, we also received about 1.5” of snow! Everything was blooming so well too.

  2. The leaves are reminiscent of columbine. This early meadowrue would go well with wild ginger and fern foliage. I have the summer blooming meadowrue. It is surprising [to me] that so many gardeners are unfamiliar with it. A very pretty plant.

  3. Molly, I had to reply to your comment! I have reached an age where I am about to do the reverse of your landscaping endeavors. I am having a great deal of work done returning garden beds back to turf and shade trees! Good luck!

  4. Oooh, I like that foliage, too. Like you, it seems more columbine-ish to me. I looked at both plants Thalictrum dioicum) and Aquilegia canadensis on the LBJWC site and they’re both in the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family. Kinfolk! That’s why there’s a bit of a similarity. Nice shots of this graceful plant.

  5. I have a NOID meadow rue that faithfully comes back year after year. It must have been one of the first things I planted in my garden. I just love it! Since then, I have expanded my collection with a few more, but that one is the one I look forward to the most. The way she’s planted the late afternoon sun makes her glow. It was unplanned, but I love that!

  6. Well, I must admit to not knowing about short meadow rue. It’s so airy looking and I bet it moves nicely in a breeze. I grow a tall meadow rue, which has lavender colored blossoms. It’s tough to tell meadow rue and columbine seedlings apart when they share a garden bed. A nice addition to your spring garden!

  7. I found an interesting plant growing in the woods in east Texas last year. It wasn’t this one, but the flowers were remarkably similar, with those dangling stamens. Now I have a new clue to help with identification. I could just ask someone, of course, but I often enjoy the hunt for an ID because of a side benefit — I learn so much about other plants while I’m skulking around in the books and websites.

  8. I love Thalictrum! Not sure which 3 varieties I grow but they are all different from each other and also from your Early Meadowrue. Although they have similar leaf shape, the flower stock shoot to different hights: my oldest plant grows to 6′ and produces a “cloud” of tiny pinkish flowers.
    I’ll be looking for Early Meadowrue on my next nursery visit; there is always room for one more.

  9. I am a sucker for meadow rue .. I have 2 summer blooming ones , one of them goes over 9 feet (I know , if I didn’t have an 8 foot fence to compare it to , I would wonder too !) .. I have yet to nail the exact cultivar for that one. The other is thicker and sturdier .. not as tall but just as pretty with the sprays of tiny lavender flowers with bright yellow stamens ? .. but I haven’t seen this one and I am loving the foliage !

  10. I’d put in an order for a Thalictrum ichangense ‘Evening Star’ earlier this year, wanting to give it a try, but was advised by the nursery last week that theirs failed to break dormancy and so they were not shipping any this year. Supposedly rabbits are not that fond of meadow rues but I do wonder if they nibble on the smaller ones….

  11. Thanks for the suggestion, I have Thalictrum Delavayi on my list but not this one. We could do with an alternative to ferns as they’re just the default plant we put into difficult and shady spots. and we have so many. While it looks delicate, I hope it is a robust plant (it needs to be for this garden).

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