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
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.