Japanese spurge foliage remains fresh and green even after a long cold winter.
Japanese spurge is a ground hugging evergreen subshrub that spreads across the ground on fleshy green stems. Short upright branches emerge from the rhizome-like stems, and these are topped with 2-4 in (5-10 cm) leaves clustered in whorls. The leaves are obovate, coarsely toothed toward the ends, and glossy dark green. This shiny leaved groundcover stands only about 10 in (25 cm) tall, but spreads indefinitely to form a matlike carpet. In early summer tiny creamy white, faintly scented flowers are produced in spiky clusters about an inch (2.5 cm) tall. Japanese spurge is dioecious, and for reasons unknown to me, most plants in cultivation have male flowers only.
'Green Carpet' is smaller and more compact than the species, with 2 in (5 cm) leaves and a height of just 6 in (15 cm). 'Variegata' has leaves with white margins.
Location Pachysandra terminalis is native to woodlands in Japan and northern China. This is probably the most widely used groundcover for shady areas in the U.S.
Culture Light: Grow this evergreen perennial in part sun to partial shade to full shade. It does not like full sun. Moisture: Japanese spurge tolerates most any soil type so long as it isn't excessively dry or constantly wet. Plantings in sunnier locations require more watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 -9. Propagation: It's easy to propagate Japanese spurge by division of the roots or from stem cuttings. Since only male plants are generally available, fruits and seeds are rarely seen.
Japanese spurge remains green throughout the winter, tolerates dry conditions, grows in shade and is less than a foot in height - characteristics that make it a useful and much used groundcover.
One of the few plants that does well in dry shade, the tough little Japanese spurge makes a fine groundcover in the woodland garden or mixed border. This is one of the few plants that will thrive under trees, spreading and colonizing rapidly. Use it to create a carpet on bare ground under big trees. Planted on 6-10 in (15-25 cm) centers in a shady site with moist, well drained soil, Japanese spurge should form a continuous ground covering mat in two or three years. It competes well with trees but does not tolerate foot traffic.
Although Japanese spurge is grown mainly for the shiny ground covering foliage, the little spikes of white flowers are interesting as well.
There are just four species of Pachysandra. Three are from eastern Asia and one, Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), is native to the southeastern U.S.