This summer I purchased over 20 acres with most of it being wooded (untouched for 30 years). For more info go to my 20 acres BTW it is Zone 6a. I'm going to try and make some time tonight to update the site with more info and pictures.
We are in the process of planning what we want to add to the forest this spring/summer. Our goal is to enhance the forest and correct erosion problems while adding more edibles. We are going to try to leave as much of the forest untouched but we do have some areas that are over run with only one species such as wild grape, honey suckle, sassafras and several large dead ash.
So we will be clearing opening some small sections to add diversity. For a list of what we have found naturally growing check out Crazy Acres Plant List the list needs to be updated with about 12 more trees there should be about 37 trees listed.
What are some suggestions for good shade/partial sun plants?
The suggestions do not have to be edible but that would be nice. There is a lot of clay in the soil but I have not seen much in the way of plantain. Once in the forest the only ground cover type plants I have seen is some grasses and ferns.
Check out the journey on creating a forest garden and living in an urban homestead at My Ky Homestead it's a work in progress.
One way to proceed might be to locate some area of old-growth or older-growht forest nearby you, and see what understory plants are growing there. Many of these are very slow to propagate and colonize areas of younger forest and you can jump-start the process. I would beware of doing this by transplanting directly from older forest areas except under strictest protocols for sustainability. That said, some of these plants depend on mycorhizal fungi, some of which are also in relationship with the roots of the trees themselves. Moving a bit of soil with the transplants might be a good way to get these beneficial relationships restarted.
There are quite a few native understory plants (and exotics also, I'm sure) that are edible and/or medicinal, indeed, several are so valuable they have been endangered by overharvesting (ginseng and goldenseal come first to mind). Getting these established thus can benefit both your ecosystem and you.
You may well need to exclude or deter deer and possibly other animals from the areas where you are trying to establish these things....deer are often overpopulated relative to the primeval condition. Invasive exotics, too, may be present or may appear because of, or in spite of, your activities.....bringing in nursery-grown plants or soil from off-site is a notorious way to do this. Some exotic woodland plants are also edible, useful, and not aggressive....the edible shoots of some hostas come to mind......
Another point to remember is to observe the site carefully for several months, or preferably still an entire cycle of seasons, to be sure you know exactly what is growing there....what, where, and when. Some of the woodland ephemerals come up and bloom and die down in just a few weeks, so it's easy to miss them and then disturb them later when they are invisible; this is also true of mycorhizal mushrooms, which may appear even more briefly. One way to pursue this along with a policy of introducing beneficial plants is to start a nursery, where the new plants are kept in pots or temporary shaded beds for a while before shifting them to their permanent positions.
Please enjoy this holographic presentation of our apocalyptic dilemma right after this tiny ad:
Heat your home with the twigs that naturally fall of the trees in your yard