Common names: Barrenwort, Bishop’s Hat.
Plant History and Name
Epimedium was apparently named Barrenwort, barren for ‘not able to conceive’ and wort (plant) because when eaten it was supposed to prevent conception. Bishop’s Hat is an obvious reference to the shape of the flower.
- Sun needed: Shade to part shade
- Bloom color: Pinks/yellows
- Bloom time: Early spring
- Height: 8” to 12”
- Width: 12” to 18”.
- Propagation: Division
- Hardiness: USDA 3
- LIfespan: greater than 5 years
- Best Soil: Well drained, woodland or woodland edge.
- Potential disease problems: none serious
- Potential insect problems: none serious
- Use: ground cover in shade, early spring bloom
How to Grow
In small clumps, they live quite comfortably in all but the deepest shade and driest soils (once established).
So plant and water them every few days for the first month so their roots get out and into the surrounding soil.
After this initial establishment period, cut back to a weekly watering for the rest of the first summer.
Water monthly in following years or during severe droughts.
While these plants will live in the sun, they do much better (with less leaf bronzing/burning) if planted in shade.
Part shade will give you great growth rates but this is a plant of deeper shade as well. Do not plant under evergreens as nothing really grows under those.
This is a slow-growing plant and doesn’t invade or spread too far – too fast. Easily controlled with an early spring shovel and/or edger.
The flowers appear in very early spring and are small and delicate. If you’re looking for a plant to throw huge flowers, this isn’t it.
But if you’re looking for a delicate spray of rose-pink or yellow flowers in the spring, followed by lovely rounded leaves for the summer and then red-toned fall shades of fall foliage, this is your plant.
Epimediums divide quite easily first thing in the spring. Simply dig a clump out of an established bed. They’re easy to move.
Water to establish however (see above).
If you’re not sure about how to grow shade garden perennials, click here
Growing Care Tips:
- This is a wonderful ground cover. While it is technically an evergreen, the foliage does get pretty ratty by spring in our zone 4 garden and dies to the ground in snowless winters. In warmer areas, it would be a wonderful alternative as an evergreen ground cover.
- This plant does reasonably well in dry shade (once established) so it is a candidate for that problem garden space. They do flower but unless you clip the foliage back to the ground in the very early spring, you may miss the flowers.
- These attractive flowers are held just underneath the top foliage of the plant. If grown in decent soils with average moisture, this is a medium fast-spreading plant.
- Note that the grandiflora varieties all carry their flowers above the foliage and are likely the showiest in the family.
If given average garden woodland soils, this plant will thrive handsomely.
- Epimedium alpinum ‘Rubrum’ A dwarf form with reddy-pink blossoms
- Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Album’ Grandiflora is Horticultural Latin for “big flower” and this form carries its white blossoms above the foliage on long stems.
- Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ A Korean plant, this variety has purple flowers. Like all the grandiflora species, it carries its flower above the foliage.
- Epimedium grandiflora ‘Rose Queen’ Deep pink blooms, carried above the foliage make this a candidate for the best garden performer. It is more a clump grower as opposed to having a spreading habit.
- Epimedium versicolor sulphureum. A yellow flowering form, easily found in garden centers but quite a good bloomer. Fall leaf color is reddish and attractive. I cut mine to the ground in the fall and they regrow nicely in the spring.
- Epimedium x rubrum Red blossoms in early spring. The leaves are red-veined and attractive as well in their own right until the coloring fades later in the summer.
- Epimedium x youngianum ‘Roseum’ Dwarf epimedium that forms clumps of semi-evergreen foliage. Soft pink flowers. It is easy to grow and excellent for small city gardens.
Potions and Poisons
This is a plant that (if eaten) may have some abortifact properties even though no modern data I can find suggests this. Old name myths often have a basis in truth even if it was the imagination of some classical Greek author looking to sell his own botanical services.