Native Spotlight: Sedum ternatum

Guest Blog by Rachel Shaw 
Sedum and Carex
 An easy to grow shade-loving native groundcover

With few exceptions there’s not much green in the yard right now, covered as it is in a blanket of white. Under the layer of snow I know that a few green things survive. Most, unfortunately, are aggressive non-natives like English ivy, and the seemingly indomitable winter cress that has proven to be frustratingly hardy in my gravel driveway. But one of my favorite plants resting under the snow is Sedum ternatum, an evergreen groundcover native to much of the eastern U.S.

When I dug through the snow to take a look at one of my patches of Sedum, it didn’t look bad, but many of the leaves seemed so much tinier than I remembered  that I wasn’t sure I’d found the right plant. I found an explanation for this on the Missouri Botanic Garden’s website. In winter the stems break away and die, separating newly rooted plants from the mother plant.

Sedum ternatum is a small plant with nicely rounded fleshy leaves. Even at its peak of spring bloom it is no more than about six inches high, including the flower stalk. The white star-like flowers bloom for a few short weeks in April or May in our area.

early spring sedum
This versatile little groundcover likes moist conditions and part-shade to shade, but is also quite drought tolerant. In my yard it is one of the few things I have been able to grow under the dry shade of a large silver maple on a slope, together with the native Pennsylvania sedge, Carex pensylvanica. I have transplanted bits of it to the edge of my driveway, and from there to shady moist patches in the front yard. It seems happy wherever it lands.

It is easy to propagate (break a stem off and stick it in the ground) and to transplant. Just keep in mind that it is not the most rapid of spreaders, and as the plants are small, it is not the best choice for filling in a large space rapidly. On the other hand, if you decide for whatever reason that you need to take it out, removal is easy. But my guess is that you’ll want to spread it around the yard, not get rid of it!

About the author:
Rachel Shaw focuses on vegetable gardening and growing native plants in her small yard in Rockville, Maryland. She blogs at
This guest blog post is part of a monthly Native Plants series that Rachel will be posting here around the 10th of each month.


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