Plant of the Month: Epimedium

Submitted by the Bath Gamma Garden Club

Epimedium, also known as barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings and horny goat weed, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Berberidaceae. They are native to the woodlands of the Mediterranean and Asia.

Epimedium is an underused perennial groundcover with a carpeting growth habit that gives a burst of spring color to the landscape. They are an ideal plant for dappled shade in woodland gardens. They can grow in rocky, dry soils and do well when planted near or under trees, since they can manage root competition. The woody rhizomes spread slowly over time, forming a nice clump without crowding out desired plants.

Most Epimedium plants have heart-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves with red veining marks. The dainty flowers grow on arching leafless stems that hover above the plant, mimicking butterfly wings. The flowers have four petals and colors include red, pink, purple, white, yellow or orange.

Mediterranean varieties are usually evergreen and maintain their showy foliage year-round. The foliage sports great fall color in shades of reds to bronze. Since evergreen varieties do not shed their leaves, it is best to cut foliage to the ground in early spring before flowers appear to encourage fresh, healthy growth of the plant.

Epimedium plants are hardy in USDA zones 5-8. They prefer loamy, sandy, well-drained soils and tolerate PH ranges from acidic to alkaline. Plants can tolerate dry conditions once established. The best way to fertilize is by adding a layer of leaf mulch or top dressing with compost in the spring. The plant’s growth habit is 8 to 12 inches tall and 12-by-36 inches wide. Although this groundcover grows slowly, the clumps can be divided in spring after blooming or from late summer into early fall to create more plants.

Epimedium plants are used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions including fatigue, arthritic pain and nerve pain.

The ‘Pink Champagne’ variety of Epimedium produces vibrant evergreen foliage that turns a bronze color in fall with spiky pink flowers in spring.

Epimedium looks lovely planted among early daffodils, crocus and other spring blooming bulbs. Combine with hellebores for another stunning spring show.

This drought tolerant, hardy perennial groundcover takes time to establish before seeing its true beauty. The good news is that they are resistant to deer and rabbits and rarely affected by disease. ∞

Photo: Epimedium, Pink Champagne variety. Photo submitted.