Trees That Grow in Full Shade

illustration of tree varieties that grow in full shade

Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Finding a tree that can grow in full shade can be a bit tricky sometimes. After all, most plants crave as much sun as they can get during the day so that their leaves can perform photosynthesis. 

There are, however, some that have adapted well enough to tolerate less light. While you may not get the optimal height, flowering, or fruiting, the tree will at least be able to grow there. You will also need to consider any plants you place underneath these trees carefully. These trees will only deepen the shade for them, so make sure you choose accompanying plants like hostas and impatiens that can grow in full shade.

These 12 trees are suitable for planting in full shade locations.

  • 01 of 12

    American Beech

    Beech tree in the forest
    LAByrne / Getty Images

    The American beech is, as the name suggests, one source for beech nuts which are favored by wildlife and can be eaten by humans.

    • Botanical Name: Fagus grandifolia
    • Family: Fagaceae
    • Other Common Names: North American beech
    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 50 to 80 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 02 of 12

    American Hornbeam

    Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), leaves, close-up
    Tom Chance / Getty Images

    The wood of the American hornbeam is quite strong, inspiring the common name of ironwood. Hornbeam also refers to the wood strength since "beam" is a name for a tree in the Old English language. The flowers are also useful and are included as a component of the alternative medicine therapy called Bach Flower Remedies. 

    • Botanical Name: Carpinus caroliniana
    • Family: Betulaceae
    • Other Common Names: Ironwood, blue beech, water beech, muscle tree, muscle beech, and musclewood
    • Native Area: North and South America
    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 20 to 35 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 03 of 12

    Big Leaf Maple

    Silver Falls South Falls in Autumn Big Leaf Maple
    Darrell Gulin / Getty Images

    The big leaf maple is appropriately named and each leaf can be as long as 2 feet. Fall colors on this species are yellow and orange-yellow. 

    • Botanical Name: Acer macrophyllum
    • Family: Sapindaceae
    • Other Common Names: Broadleaf maple, bigleaf maple, Oregon maple
    • Native Area: Western North America
    • USDA Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 20 to 100 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 04 of 12

    Eastern Hemlock

    Eastern hemlock branches
    AndrisL/Getty Images

    Few evergreen trees are able to tolerate shade, as you may have noticed from this list. Eastern hemlock is a great species to handle lower light during the day.

    • Botanical Name: Tsuga canadensis
    • Family: Pinaceae
    • Other Common Names: Canadian hemlock, hemlock spruce, Canada hemlock
    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3 to 7
    • Height: 30 to 80 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Hop-Hornbeam

    Hop hornbeam leaves in a forest
    Buddha Dog/flickr / CC By 2.0

    The hop-hornbeam is a cousin of the true hornbeams (Carpinus) and the name hop refers to the fact that the fruit is similar in look to the flowers on hops (Humulus lupulus,) which is used in the production of beer.

    • Botanical Name: Ostrya virginiana
    • Family: Betulaceae
    • Other Common Names: American hop-hornbeam, eastern hophornbeam, ironwood, hophornbeam, American hophornbeam
    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 20 to 50 feet tall
    • Exposure: Part shade to shade for best results
  • 06 of 12

    Hoptree

    Water ash blossom
    ArtyAlison/GettyImages

    The hoptree is a small deciduous tree that can fit into most gardens. The flowers are sweet smelling. The name stinking ash came about because of the odor that arises if foliage or bark are damaged.

    • Botanical Name: Ptelea trifoliata
    • Family: Rutaceae
    • Other Common Names: Common hoptree, wafer ash, stinking ash
    • Native Area: North and Central America
    • USDA Zones: 4 to 9
    • Height: 5 to 20 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 07 of 12

    Japanese Maple

    a Japanese maple tree
    Ketkarn sakultap / Getty Images

    Japanese maples do prefer to have at least some shade usually to protect their foliage, though colors may start to fade and fall color could be less spectacular if they get too much shade. There are thousands of different cultivars available in a variety of colors and leaf shapes.

    • Botanical Name: Acer palmatum
    • Family: Sapindaceae
    • Other Common Names: Smooth Japanese maple
    • Native Area: China, Japan, and Korea
    • USDA Zones: 5 to 9, varies by cultivar
    • Height: Usually 15 to 25 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 08 of 12

    Japanese Yew

    Yew berries in a tree
    Dragan Todorovic / Getty Images

    The Japanese yew is another shade-tolerant evergreen tree. In fact, it is one of the best evergreens in this situation. 

    • Botanical Name: Taxus cuspidata
    • Family: Taxaceae
    • Other Common Names: Spreading Yew
    • Native Area: China, Japan, Korea, and Russia
    • USDA Zones: 4 to 7
    • Height: 4 to 40 feet tall depending on the variety
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Pagoda Dogwood

    Pagoda Dogwood flowers
    rockerBOO/Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Flowering will be better if you can find a site with more sun, but the pagoda dogwood is one possibility for your full shade spot. 

    • Latin Name: Cornus alternifolia
    • Family: Cornaceae
    • Other Common Names: Green osier, alternate leaf dogwood, alternate-leaved dogwood
    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 4 to 7
    • Height: 15 to 35 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 10 of 12

    Pawpaw

    Pawpaw tree with fruit
    Renata Oliva / EyeEm / Getty Images

    You are likely to get a lesser fruit crop from your pawpaw tree if it is planted in full shade, but it will still grow.

    • Botanical Name: Asimina triloba
    • Family: Annonaceae
    • Other Common Names: Indiana banana, pawpaw, poor man's banana, prairie banana, American pawpaw, papaw, paw-paw, Indian banana, Hoosier banana, and common pawpaw
    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 6 to 9
    • Height: 15 to 30 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 11 of 12

    Sugar Maple

    Sugar maple trees in autumn color Guelph Ontario Canada
    Mike Grandmaison / Getty Images

    The sugar maple is a useful tree to have in your garden. You can experiment with making maple syrup each spring. In the fall, the tree will provide a gorgeous foliage color change display.

    • Botanical Name: Acer saccharum
    • Family: Sapindaceae
    • Other Common Names: Rock maple and hard maple
    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3 to 8
    • Height: 50 to 80 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • 12 of 12

    Windmill Palm

    Hardy palms with snow on their fronds
    Aaron McCoy / Getty Images

    The windmill palm is a great way to add a tropical feel to your garden since it is able to handle cooler temperatures than many other warm climate staples like other palm trees and banana trees.

    • Botanical Name: Trachycarpus fortunei
    • Family: Arecaceae
    • Other Common Names: Chusan palm, hemp palm, Chinese windmill palm, and the Nepalese fan palm
    • Native Area: Burma, China, and India
    • USDA Zones: 7B to 11
    • Height: 10 to 40 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to full shade