Deerfoot as Groundcover


I was in Burlington over the weekend and the homeowners had a plant called deerfoot. It looked a bit like rhubarb. I want ground cover for a large shady area that often has pine needles on it. Grass will not grow there but, as we back on a ravine, we need to have something there as the weeds happily move to the area from the ravine. Deer foot looked perfect but I cannot fine it anywhere. Do you know where I can find it? Can you recommend another quick growing plant that would be good for the area?


Deerfoot (Achlys triphylla) is a native plant most commonly found in British Columbia. It spreads quickly by rhizomes and will cover shady areas. Tiny white flowers form on thin, erect stalks. Apparently dried leaves smell like vanilla and are said to repel insects. This plant is found from British Columbia to northern California and is hardy from USDA zones 7-9. The zone for the GTA is 5-6.

This plant is going to be difficult to purchase in Ontario, in fact you probably won’t find it at all. When plants are introduced from outside our geographic area there is the potential for them to establish themselves, become invasive and disrupt the established ecosystem.  This becomes a major issue when it comes to planting beside ravines. Therefore, planting Deerfoot is not recommended. (See link below on Ravine Planting)

Other groundcovers you might investigate include common bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), a creeping rhizomatous perennial that spreads by stolons. Ajuga tolerates acidic soil, dry conditions and shade.  Some attractive cultivars are ‘Multicolor’, ‘Burgundy Glow’ and ‘Metallica Crispa’.  Bugleweed can invade lawns, but under a pine it should be possible to control its spread.  Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is another creeping perennial suitable for shaded woodland conditions: its glossy emerald green leaves and scented white star-shaped flowers make an attractive carpet.  It is less tolerant of dry conditions.  Also needing regular moisture is creeping wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) an evergreen perennial that will tolerate shade and acidic soil.  These last two plants mentioned have the advantage of being native to Ontario.

You might be interested in some of the groundcovers listed in the booklet, Grow me Instead from the Ontario Invasive Plant Council.  Click here.

Ravine planting