Epimedium

Epimedium grandiflorum

A useful ground cover perennial that creates a lush carpet of foliage in various shades and hues. The flowers are often small and dainty but make a welcome sight in spring, pushing their way up through the leaves.

Family: Berberidaceae (barberry family)
Botanical Name: Epimedium
Common Names: Barrenwort, bishop's hat

Foliage: Deciduous, evergreen or semi-evergreen. Attractive, heart shaped leaves, occasionally toothed, in shades of green, red or pink. The leaves deepen in colour as they mature, turning to richer shades of yellow, red, orange, and bronze in autumn.

Flowers: Tiny, spurred, saucer-shaped flowers, appear above the leaves, in shades of pink, red, yellow, purple or white (depending on variety).

Flowering Period: April-May.

Soil: Moist but well-drained, humus rich, fertile soil (clay, sand or loam). Acid or neutral pH. Dislikes waterlogged conditions.

Conditions: Best in semi or partial shade. Plant in an east or west facing aspect, in a sheltered possition.

Habit: Clump forming, low growing.

Type: Rhizomatous perennial.

Origin: North Africa, northern Italy, and the Middle and Far East.

Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.

Planting and Growing Epimediums

Popular ground cover perennial that thrives in light shade under deciduous shrubs and trees (but not deep shade). It is grown mainly for its spreading heart-shaped foliage, that changes colour as the season progresses, finally turning bronze in autumn.

It thrives best in partial shade. In a moisture-retentive but not wet, humus rich loam. An ideal choice for year-round ground cover in lightly shaded situations.

Plant out in autumn or early spring. Planting distance 12-15in (30-38cm).

Taking Care of Epimediums

Shelter the plants from cold, dry winds and hot dry conditions in summer.

Pruning Epimediums

Do not remove the foliage in autumn, but allow it to remain over winter. Remove the old leaves in very early spring, then lightly mulch with bark chippings or leaf mould.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by vine weevil. The leaves can also be affected by a virus.

Propagating Epimedium

Divide plants once flowering has finished, in autumn or in early spring.

Seeds can be sown from mid to late summer under a cold frame.

Popular Varieties of Epimedium

A number of good garden varieties are available:

Epimedium alpinum (alpine barrenwort) has dark red and yellow flowers on slender racemes in spring. The attractive heart-shaped leaflets are flushed red when young. Height to 1ft (30cm), spread to 2ft (60cm).

Epimedium grandiflorum is a semi-evergreen large flowering form with long-spurred, white, pink, red or violet flowers in early summer. The young leaves are browny-beige. Height and spread to 1ft (30cm). Good cultivars include, 'Rose Queen' (crimson-pink), 'White Queen' (pure white) and 'Violaceum' (deep lilac).

Epimedium perralderianum is a good yellow-flowering evergreen with bright green and bronze-red leaves turning copper-bronze in winter. Sprays of yellow flowers in summer. Height to 1ft (30cm), spread to 15cm (38cm).

Epimedium pinnatum is a popular evergreen with mid green, hairy leaves, tinted red in autumn. Bright yellow flowers in late spring to mid summer. The cultivar 'colchicum' has larger and more profuse flowers. Height and spread to 1ft (30cm).

Epimedium x rubrum (red barrenwort) is a robust form, with strongly red-tinted leaves. Produces red flowers with white spurs in May.

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' one of the best know cultivars. Good leaf colour. Produces sulphur yellow flowers on wiry stems in spring.

Epimedium x warleyense is a fine semi-evergreen form with mid green, red-marked, toothed leaves and copper-red flowers in April-May. One of the best flowering forms is 'Orangekonigin', with sprays of soft orange flowers

Epimedium x youngianum is a deciduous clump forming variety. The toothed mid green foliage is divided into triangular leaflets, marked red when young, turning flushed orange-red in autumn. Pink flowers in April-May. Height to 9in (23cm), spread to 1ft (30cm). Popular cultivars include 'Niveum' (pure white flowers) and 'Roseum' (lilac-pink).