Story and Photos by Clara A. Curtis
I’ve written about and gardened with this little-known ground cover for many years, yet I believe Epimedium need a Pied Piper to call attention to their variety and flexibility in garden designs. The genus is not widely known. According to Tony Avent, a well known plant evangelist and Pied Piper of sorts, only 21 species of epimedium were known in 2001, yet today more than 50 species have been identified due to the work of Mikinori Ogisu of Japan and Darrel Probst of Massachussets.
Spreading just under the soil surface by woody rhizomes – some spread quickly while others remain in clumps. Bees pollinate the oddly winged star-shaped flowers, resulting in many crosses and hybrids in a range of colors. In cultivation, barrenwort grows well in dry shade, which is opposite to conditions in their native habitat. With a little light shade and rich, moist, well-drained soils they are outstanding evergreen ground cover plants. Some epimedium species are deciduous and generally hardy in colder zones. ‘Pink Champagne’ is one of a group of hybrids that is showy raspberry red with white flowers and complementary burgundy red splotched leaves. Thanks to Avent, this epimedium cultivar and many others are available in the garden marketplace.
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Barrenwort, fairy wings, bishop’s hat, horny goat weed
Botanical Name: Epimedium
Cultivars: There are several cultivars, such as ‘Pink Champagne’
Color: Leaves are dull olive green with burgundy splotches; flowers are blush pink with a raspberry red centers
Blooming Period: Early spring
Type: Evergreen ground cover
Size: 24 inches tall with 12-plus inch spread
Exposure: Sun to part shade
USDA Hardiness Zone(s): 5-8
When to Plant: Spring or fall
Watering: Water well to settle and then weekly to establish
When to Prune: None necessary. Older leaves may be removed in late winter to prepare for spring’s new growth.
When to Fertilize: At planting and then annually with natural organic fertilizers
In Your Landscape: A superb ground cover for light shade.