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Fragrant Plants for the Shade


Someone recently asked me what fragrant flowers would grow in the shade. This was one list I hadn't thought to put in any of my books. So I got the person's email, rubbed my hands together, went home, and compiled the following for those of us who want to sniff happily even in the shade. The plants marked with asterisks have fragrant foliage rather than flowers, which means they are always fragrant, not just when they are in bloom. A few of these, Dracaena, some orchids, and Sansevieria have blooms that are only fragrant at night. NCS after the name means that it will grow in North, Central, and/or South Florida. I have tried the sweet woodruff and had it survive only for a short while. You might try it through the cooler months if you bring home a free plant from a friend. And many people grow orchids in central Florida and cover them during cold weather.

Crinum lilies will bloom in full sun to light shade. Mine just had four blooms at once and it gets no direct sun.

Botanical name



Common name(s)

Amount of shade it likes

Brugmansia species CS Shrub, small tree Angel trumpet Sun to partial shade
Brunfelsia australis CS Shrub Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow Sun to light shade
Calycanthus floridus NC Shrub Sweet shrub, Carolina allspice Sun to full, shade
Cestrum nocturnum CS Shrub Night-blooming jessamine Sun to light shade
Citrus species CS Shrub or tree Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, etc Sun to partial shade
Clematis ternifolia NCS Vine Sweet autumn clematis Sun to partial shade
Crinum NCS Perennial Spider lily, swamp lily, tree crinum Partial shade
Datura species CS Shrub Angel trumpet Sun to partial shade
Dracaena fragrans S Shrub Fragrant dracaena Full shade to sun
Eucharis amazonica CS Perennials Eucharis, Amazon lily Light to dense shade
*Galium odoratum N Perennial Sweet Woodruff Partial to full shade
Gardenia species NCS Shrub Common gardenia Sun to partial shade
Gelsemium sempervirens NC Vine Carolina yellow jessamine Light shade to sun
Hedychium coronarium NCS Perennial Butterfly ginger Partial shade to sun
Hedychium flavum CS Perennial Yellow ginger Partial shade
Hedychium gardnerianum CS Perennial Kahili lily Partial shade
*Illicium NCS Shrub, Tree Yellow, red, Florida or Chinese anise Partial shade to sun
Ipomoea alba NCS Annual vine Moonflowers Sun to partial shade
Jasminum species NCS Shrub, Vine Jasmines Partial shade to sun
Lonicera species NCS Perennial vine Trumpet and coral honeysuckle Light shade to sun
Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' NCS Perennial Creeping Jenny, Charlie Partial to light shade
Magnolia species NC Tree Magnolia Sun to light shade
Mahonia, some species NC Shrub Holly grape, Oregon holly olive Partial to light shade
Mirabilis jalapa NCS Perennial Four o'clock, can be invasive Sun to full shade
Neomarica gracilis CS Perennial White walking iris Partial to light shade
Orchids, some species S Perennial Certain orchids Partial to dense shade
Osmanthus species NC Shrub Tea olive, wild olive Light shade to full sun
*Plectranthus amboinicus NCS Perennial Vick's salve plant Partial to deep shade
Rhododendron, Vireya, some CS Shrub Tropical or Vireya rhododendrons Partial shade
Sansevieria species CS Perennial Snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue Partial to full shade
Trachelospermum species NCS Vine Confederate jasmine Coastal sun to deep shade
Tropaeolum majus NCS Annual Nasturtiums Sun to partial shade
Zingiber zerumbet NCS Perennial Pinecone ginger, lanolin lily Sun to deep shade

Gardenias won't bloom as much in shade, but they do well as long as they get a few hours of sun a day.

The last is one of my favorites because it grows easily anywhere I've planted it and a few places where I didn't. It spreads quickly but is not rampant. It goes dormant in the winter so there is no worry about frost. It comes up again in the spring and starts blooming by July 4. The same "blooms", which are actually bracts, stay on the plant until cold weather and turn gradually from apple green to bright red. But the best part is that every time you pass them, you can squeeze the bloom gently and get a hand full of lanolin-like, sweet smelling lotion that is great for hands, face, or hair. The bracts make an ideal focal point for bouquets where you can squeeze them inside for two weeks, after which they will dry in the vase and can then be cut up for potpourri.

Above: Pinecone gingers don't smell until you squeeze them.
Then they give a lotion that smells wonderful.

Left: Dracaena fragrans or fragrant dracaena is one that only smells at night.