Shade-Loving and Steppable Ground Cover Plants With Fern-Like Foliage

Written by janet bayers
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Commonly called brass buttons because of its tiny, round blossoms, Leptinella squalida (formerly Cotula squalida) is a shade- and moisture-loving groundcover whose foliage resembles tiny fern fronds. It forms a thick, flat carpet of green or green and black that crowds out weeds. It is evergreen in mild climates where winter temperatures remain above -9.44 degrees Celsius and hardy to minus -3.89 degrees C.


Leptinella spreads by runners both underground and on the soil surface. It can be used as a lawn substitute because it tolerates light foot traffic. It won't stand up to constant walking on, however, or the kind of hard playing that lawn grass gets. It grows less than 2 inches tall and spreads to 1 foot wide. Greenish-yellow flowers appear in May or June.


Leptinella is known as a shade-loving groundcover, but it also does well in part shade and in morning sun. It likes regularly moist soil, so full, hot sun isn't a good choice for it. Amend the soil with plenty of compost to provide a light, well-drained mix. Water regularly to establish a good root system. Rake out old foliage before new leaves appear if Leptinella is not evergreen in your climate.

Platt's Black

The cultivar Platt's Black has a mix of green and black foliage. It is a sport of the green type and was discovered in the Portland, Ore., garden of Jane Platt. The tiny greenish-yellow spherical flowers show up particularly well against its dark foliage, which lies flatter than the species. Combine it with golden Scotch moss for eye-opening contrast.


Leptinella gruveri, miniature brass buttons, has tiny, bright green fernlike foliage only about 1/8-inch long. It forms a tight, flat mat that can be walked on -- a good choice for between pavers. Use it as a substitute for moss in areas too dry or sunny to support mosses.

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