As we can see after cutting back the bush honeysuckle, nothing grows beneath it (except maybe wintercreeper.) And where wintercreeper is allowed to run wild, nothing grows but wintercreeper. The topic of appropriate ground covers for Roanoke Park is a lively one. It's difficult to tell exactly what was growing beneath the trees in the old photographs. Were the grassy areas mowed turf grass or short native grasses? But as we restore Roanoke Park to the slice of "unmarred nature" it once was, a wide variety of native ground covers will certainly have a place.

The following is a list of NATIVE ground covers that may have been growing here in years past and if we plant them, will again. A number of them are already here if you know where to look. Most of the list below is native to Jackson County, or at least Missouri. Unless noted these are perennials.

We are undertaking a fund raising initiative to raise money for new plantings similar to what has already been undertaken in the Bioswale/Rain Garden north of the community center, and seeding areas elsewhere in the park.

Spring Ephemerals

These emerge very early in the spring and typically die down to the ground by mid to late summer. They are usually absent in woods overtaken by bush honeysuckle or wintercreeper like Roanoke Park. As those weeds are controlled an effort should be made to return spring ephemerals to the landscape.

Wake Robin / Toadshade - Trillium sessile - This one has mottled leaves and a small maroon flower. Stunning to look at but not to smell, the flower mimics a dead animal to draw in pollinating flies. Grows on moist slopes, bottoms and ravines.

Mayapple - Podophyllum peltatum - Large umbrella-like leaves usually appearing in spreading clonal colonies of variously sized leaves up to 1.5' tall/wide. One to three leaves (usually two) are produced per plant. A single sweet smelling white flower is produced in May at the base of the stems. This develops later in the summer into a single fruit that looks like a green apple (not edible). Grows in shaded woods.

Dutchman's Breeches - Dicentra cucullaria - Related to Bleeding Heart. Silvery green lacy foliage. Distinctive white flowers that look like puffy pants hanging on a line.

Trout Lily - Erythronium albidum - Flowering plants have two leaves per plant, sometimes mottled with purple, and a single nodding white flower. Flowering in March or April as one of the first flowers of spring. 6" tall. Two known patches exist in the park.

Largeflower Bellwort  - Uvullaria grandifolia - Perfoliate leaves (leaves are pierced by the stem) sometimes twisting and drooping. Large yellow drooping flowers with long twisting petals.

Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis - Striking but short-lived white flower emerging in March or early April. Each plant consists of a single leaf wrapped tightly around a flower bud; the leaf opens to expose the flower as it blooms. Similar umbrella-like leaves to Mayapple but smaller, smoother edged and not as deeply divided. Will spread into a colony over many years. says it grows in bluff bases, rich woods and limestone outcrops. 3"-6" tall when in flower. Leaves growing to 6"-12" tall (8-10" wide) after flowering and persisting until August.

Soloman's Seal - Polygonatum biflorum - Patches here and there can be seen growing in Roanoke Park. Arching stems, 3-4' long, with evenly spaced stemless leaves. Small white flowers, hanging in pairs below the stems at the leaf joints. Favors moist rich woods. Not exactly a spring ephemeral, it will last well into late summer, but starts to show its age and will die down in droughty conditions.

Sunny Areas - misc.

Cleft Phlox - Phlox bifida - MO native, white to pink flowers

Purple American Stonecrop, aka Widow's Cross - Sedum pulchellum - Annual but grows well from seed and self seeds. Green succulent leaves on pinkish stems. When flowering May-July, four terminal stems covered in light pink flower bracts emerge at right angles from the preceding stem. Very striking.

Rose Verbena - Verbena canadensis - Rosy pink flowers all summer long. 6" to 1.5' tall, 1'-2' wide

Purple Poppy Mallow - Callirhoe involucrata - Showy, cup-shaped magenta flowers June through frost. Trailing stems will hang over rocks and walls. 4-6" tall x 2'-3' wide.

Field Pussytoes - Antennaria neglecta - Mat forming, finely wooly plant with smaller, more ground hugging leaves than its shady cousin A. plantaginifolia. 2-3" tall, with 1' tall blooms.

Calamint - Calamintha arkansana - Mint relative, aromatic. Native to within a couple counties south of here. Forms a dense, low-growing foliage mat on slightly alkaline, medium moisture, well drained soils. 6"-1' tall/wide, spreading with runners and self seeding.

Bigfruit Evening Primrose - Oenothera macrocarpa - Native to within a couple counties south of here. Clumped plants bloom spring through summer with large, yellow, fragrant flowers up to 4" across. Good for dry rocky sites. 10" tall by 1-1.5' wide.

Three-Leaved Stonecrop - Sedum ternatum. Native to mid and south Missouri. A unique sedum that does best with even moisture in the shade. says it's good for bluff bases and stony ledges.

Shady Areas - misc.

Wild Ginger - Asarum canadense. For moist part shade areas. Only about 4-5 inches tall with 3-4" wide kidney shaped leaves. Slow spreading habit (forms mats). A patch of this was recently discovered in the triangle between Belleview and Karnes, in an area otherwise overrun by invasive wintercreeper and a couple plants in the Coleman Highlands Spring.

Squaw-weed - Packera obovata / Senecia obovatus - Can tolerate dry shade. Loose umbrella shaped bunches of yellow flowers on 12" stems, April-June. Semi-evergreen foliage about 4" tall.

Pussytoes - Antennaria plantaginifolia - Likes acid soils on dry or rocky slopes. Mat forming, finely wooly plant with plantain like leaves. 3" tall, with 1' tall blooms.

Running Strawberry Bush - Euonymus obovatus - Native to Ozarks and southeast US. Has distinctive bright red berries hanging from a bright fuscia capsule. Good fall color to leaves. 6" - 1.5' tall x 3' wide. says it's a very fast growing ground cover. It's other native relatives with the same leaves and berries are much bigger: Strawberry Bush (E. americanicus) 6-12', and Eastern Wahoo (E. atropurpureus) 15'-25', more of a small tree.

Native Coral Bells / Alumroot - Huechera americana - Small flowers on 2' tall slender wiry stems in late spring/early summer, above a 12-15" basal clump of leaves.

Virginia Knotweed / Jumpseed - Polygonum virginianum - Seen in the park. Common in other woods in the area. Needs richer soil, even moisture and shelter from wind. 1'-2' tall plant with 3-4" pointed oval leaves. Spreads via rhizomes and self seeding. Blooms in July/August with tiny white flowers alternating on a long dark colored spike. At dusk the spike is hard to see so the flowers can appear to hover or look like a spray of fireworks. Nursery cultivar 'painter's palette' is available with variegated leaves and red flowers.

Goldenseal - Hydrastis canadensis - Attractive foliage. Spreads into a patch of multiple plants. Grows in shaded rich woods and ravines. Each plant has one stem with two large leaves, the upper one smaller. A single white flower in April/May turns into a red fruit perched in the center of the upper leaf. Becoming more rare in the wild due to collecting for the botanical industry. Only grows to 1' tall.

Blue-Eyed Mary - Collinsia verna - More wildflower than groundcover. Brilliant white / blue flowers from April to June on a small plant from 1-1.5' tall. Grows in moist low woods and stream banks.


Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Already quite common in Roanoke Park and will ramble as a ground cover. Likes to climb tree trunks but won't go over the top as aggressively as wild grape. Visible in old photos.

Canada Moonseed - Menispermum canadense - Also already exists in park. Rambles but tends not to climb. You can tell it from wild grape by the simpler, smoother leaf shape and lack of tendrils.

American Hog Peanut - Amphicarpaea Bracteata - Annual, sometimes perennial. Also exists in park and very common in area woods. Another rambler, this is too small to climb trees but will climb the stems of shrubs or other plants. With less competition it will grow into a matt of attractive blue green leaves.

Native Morning Glories - Annual. A few were seen in the area just west of the point. Large and pretty white flowers with magenta centers. Other native variety has pure white flowers.

Native Honeysuckle - Lonicera semperverins (reddish flowers) or Lonicera flava (orange flowers) - Probably too into climbing to be considered ground cover but could have a place here and there. Hummingbirds like them.

Partrige Berry - Mitchella repens - Native to eastern border counties of Missouri and eastern U.S. Great substitute for wintercreeper and vinca (for acid soils)! A creeping vine with evergreen foliage. Interesting white four-petaled flowers, always in pairs, covered with a white downy pubescence, turning into bright red berries in the fall. May not be suited for Roanoke Park as it likes acid soils near sandstone (we have limestone, which tends to make for alkaline soils). Would be good below rhododendrons, azaleas, or other acid loving plants. Often found growing amidst sphagnum moss, in sandy bogs and moist woods.

Low shrubs:

Coralberry - Symphocarpos orbiculata - Seen in the park. Nursery cultivars are available that have bigger berries than our existing wild ones.

Fragrant Sumac - Rhus aromatica - Fairly common in the area and seen in Roanoke Park. Red berries and good fall color. Leaves fragrant when torn or bruised. Wild ones will stay under 3' tall in the shade but go to 5' with more sun. Nursery variety 'gro-low' stays under 2'  but up to 8' wide. Probably too dense of a shrub to plant widely but would be good here and there.

New Jersey Tea - Ceanothus americanus - Used as a tea substitute during the Revolutionary War. Fragrant white puff ball flowers May-July are visited by hummingbirds and butterflies. Purplish brown berries are eaten by wildlife. Sun to part shade. Drought tolerant with deep roots. 1.5-3' tall.

White Baneberry - Actea pachypoda - 3' wide x 1.5-2' tall. Striking white berries on reddish stems. Berries persist late into winter.


Blue Violet - Viola sororia - Is this is our common yard weed wild violet?

Missouri Violet - Viola missouriensis - Leaves more triangular and flowers lighter than above. Some triangular leaved violets are growing on the bluffs south of Karnes & Roanoke, either this species or perhaps a hybrid.

Yellow Violet - Viola pubescens - Part shade. Yellow flowers.

Bird's Foot Violet - Viola pedanta - This one is full sun. Smaller plant with lacy deeply divided leaves. Flowers any color: white, pink, blue, purple.

Prairie Violet - Viola pedatifida - Also full sun with leaves like above. Light lavender flowers.

Small Ferns

Maidenhair Fern - Adiantum pedantum - Delicate fan-shaped leaves on shiny dark hair-like stalks. 1' high by 1-2' wide.

Spinulose Shield Fern - Dryopteris carthusiana - Upright fern with broad and full semi-evergreen fronds. 1-2' tall and wide.

Walking Fern - Asplenium rhisophyllum - Low growing, re-sprouts from leaf ends where they touch the soil. 6-12" long dagger shaped leaves. 6-12" tall, 12-18" wide.

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoides - Glossy deep green, lance shaped fronds stay green into winter. 1-2' tall/wide.

Ebony Spleenwort - Asplenium platyneuron - Looks like a small version of Christmas Fern but not related. Prefers rocky locations. Tolerates full shade and some drought. Needs excellent drainage. Evergreen. 12-15" tall.

ON the rocks

Cliff Brake Fern - The blue green fern growing on the rocks west of the baseball diamond as well as on the bluffs west of Roanoke Road. Roanoke Park has both Purple Cliff Brake (longer leaves and stems, hairy stems) and Smooth Cliff Brake (shorter leaves, smooth stems, smaller overall plant). Some other unidentified fern is growing there too, perhaps Woodsia. 

Blackstem Spleenwort - Asplenium resiliens - Grows more on the rocks than ebony spleenwort. According to one source it prefers north facing limestone cliffs.

Red Columbine - Aquilegia canadensis - Native ones at Rocky Point Glade in Swope Park put on quite a show in Springtime and would look good more widespread in Roanoke. Many plants already exist in the bluffs south of Roanoke & Karnes. Important spring nectar source for migrating hummingbirds.

"Plots of Native Grasses" - a popular option from the park survey

The below were selected from Missouri Botanical Gardens Shaw Nature Reserve Native Groundcover List, removing overly tall or incompatible species, adding a few other ideas and adding descriptions from various sources. Some of the sedges are too water hungry for most of Roanoke Park, but worth considering for spring and seep areas and any future rain gardens. (Note that the troublesome lawn weed Purple Nutsedge - Cyperus rotundus - is not native.)

Grasses & Sedges, Shade:

Pennsylvania sedge - Carex pennsylvanica - Low, clumped, grass-like perennial, 6-12" high. Cluster of brown seed capsules clings high on the stem. Pale green in summer turning sandy tan in fall. Forms a handsome ground cover in forest or savannah on dry to medium soils.

White-tinged sedge - Carex albicans var. albicans - Pale or bright green, fine-leaved delicate looking sedge. Low clumping habit, 8-12" tall. Adaptable to dry or moist conditions and sun or shade.

River Oats - Chasmanthium latifolium - Growing at bluff bases and hillsides below Rocky Point Glades, Swope Park (and just outside the front door of the Discovery Center on Troost as well as in mass plantings outside Kauffman Stadium). A few scattered plants can be found in Roanoke Park. 2'-3.5' tall blue-green bamboo like leaves turning yellow in fall. Distinctive oat-like flat chevron seed heads hanging from thin arching stems.

James’ Sedge - Carex jamesii - Dense tufts of bright smooth leaf blades forming a low spreading clump less than 1' tall. Spreading primarily by self seeding, the beaked seed heads are held within the tuft, shorter than the leaves. It prefers part sun to medium shade, medium moisture and fertile loamy soil. Grows and blooms early in the spring but doesn't die down after blooming/seeding, persisting through summer.

Beak Grass - Diarrhena obovata - Glossy green leaves, 1-2cm wide. Needs moist to medium soil. Grows in a clump to 1.5' tall x 1' wide and can spread to form patches in the right environment.

Gray's Sedge - Carex grayi - Bright-green to yellow-green leaves and lighter colored, interesting star burst seed heads. Also called Bur Sedge due to the seed head, which looks a little like a medieval mace. Usually grows along streams and in bottom lands and swamps, 12-40" tall.

Grasses & Sedges, Sun:

Buffalo Grass - Bouteloua dactyloides - Very thin light green leaves usually staying under 8" tall; spreads by runners (and self seeding if both male and female plants are present). Needs a solid 6-8 hours of sun to thrive. A warm-season perennial short grass. Turf grass variety 'Legacy' has been developed by the University of Nebraska for our area and can be purchased in seed or plugs. The turf variety 'MoBuff' was developed by the University of Missouri for a longer growing season and better cold hardiness but is available in plugs only. Wild examples are less dense and have more prominent seed heads than "improved" turf varieties.

Blue Grama - Bouteloua gracilis - More clump forming than buffalo grass and more slowly spreading. Grows to 12" with file-like seed heads held at nearly right angles to their stems. Both buffalo grass and blue grama are native to Jackson County and are used for erosion control.

Sideoats Grama - Bouteloua curtipendula - Growing in glades, savannas and rocky openings of forests on calcerous (read limestone) soils, sideoats is drought tolerant and favors dry conditions. Grows to 2-2.5' tall. The seeds are held mostly on one side of a long spike.

Prairie Dropseed - Sporobolus heterolepis - Clump-forming warm season perennial grass. Fine leaves up to 20" long but usually less than 15" tall, forming an arching foliage mound. Late summer flower / seed heads to 36" tall that smell a bit like coriander. Seeds "dropping" in autumn. Good drought resistance. Prefers dry rocky soils.

Little Bluestem - Schizachyrium scoparium - Upright clump-forming warm season perennial grass. 2' to 4' tall, green blue color through late summer, turning to bronze-orange fall color and holding color through winter. Fluffy white seeds are important winter food for birds

Clustered Field Sedge - Carex praegracilis* - Grassy looking sedge. Favors wet to seasonally wet meadows, springheads and seeps. Can be a turf substitute if mowed. More commonly allowed to grow into its natural graceful floppy habit. 1-2' tall but flopping over. Tolerant of road salt and alkaline soils.

Riverbank Tussock Sedge - Carex emoryi* - Thrives with alternating cycles of wet and dry. Good for a rain garden or seep area. 2' tall x 1-1.5' wide.

Yellow-Fruited Fox Sedge - Carex annectans - Prominent yellow green seed heads, thin leaves. Bottomland prairies, pond edges, ditches.

Palm Sedge - Carex muskingumensis - Palm tree like foliage. Tan seed heads. Likes wet or boggy areas, bottom of a rain garden or edge of a seep. 2'-3' tall/wide as a native, but dwarf cultivars are available.

*Sedges that spread rapidly by rhizomes and develop into large colonies. These species require large areas.

Sources: Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder,,,, and others