April 2010 Plant Profile: Epimedium

It has taken me almost three years to get the chance to feature one of my most favorite of all blooming shade perennials and with a wide assortment of them beginning to hit their peak, I will discuss the entire genus. Known as” Barrenwort” to some, “Fairy Wings” to others and “Horny Goat Weed” to herbalist, I am talking about the enchanting Epimedium.

“Eppies”, as I often call them amongst fellow plant geeks, have long been known as a tried-and-true perennial for dry shade. Typically planted under trees in a woodland setting, we have a wide assortment of various species and selected cultivars that thrive in various conditions just to demonstrate how adaptive they can really be in many landscape settings here in the Pacific Northwest. With many recent introductions from China finding their way into the market, many unusual forms and hybrids are beginning to turn up.

Within the Soest Garden, we have about 10 different species and named cultivars on display. Most of them are evergreen and reside underneath a large red oak tree and a handful are deciduous that have evident buds ready to spring into full bloom in the month of April.

Every landscape deserves an Epimedium. You really can’t ask for a more elegant, tough and reliable perennial.

  • Common Name: Barrenwort, Fairy Wings
  • Location: Soest Garden Beds 2, 6, 7 and the dry shade bed under the large red oak. Two species in the Fragrance Garden (thought no Epimedium is fragrant, unfortunately)
  • Family: Berberidaceae
  • Origin: Asian and Eastern European species and some of garden origin
  • Height: 6-12″
  • Spread: Can form tight clumps after several years
  • Bloom Time: Usually mid-late March onto April and sometimes into May.
  • Bloom Type/Color: Various
  • Exposure: Part-Full Shade
  • Water/Soil: Well drained, moderately moist. Asian species and their hybrids tend to prefer more water.

6 Responses to “April 2010 Plant Profile: Epimedium”

  1. Nice article. Epi’s are such an interesting group and lend a magical quality top the garden

  2. admin

    @Dana — It’s hard to say what your Epimedium species might be, but if you can get a close up photo of the flower and send it to our library (hortlib@uw.edu) we may be able to identify it.

  3. Dana Staikides

    I see Epimediums growing happily in full sun in a parkstrip near my house. I don’t imagine they have irrigation beyond natural rainfall. What species do you think this might be?

  4. Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

    They are as tough as they look. I would recommend a fall division as most species and hybrids are beginning to bloom at this time and their foliage is just coming up. If you absolutely MUST dig and divide, then make sure to dig a large clump with the largest rootball you can keep intact. Then replant or pot up ASAP and make sure it is watered well. You might lose flowers and the growth may be small and not as vigorous, but be patient with it.

  5. I have a very happy clump of Epimedium under a large climbing rose. I’ve been meaning to divide it so I can have more plants. I wonder if they’re as tough as they look. Can I just plunge a spade in and lift out a chunk? Now or autumn, I wonder?

  6. Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

    So from left to right, we’ve got: E. grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’, E. acuminatum, and, finally, E. x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’. All are in full bloom now in the Soest Garden!