Barrenwort, Bishop's Hat

This genus consists of about 25 species and many named hybrids. Some of them form clumps while others are spreading perennials that multiply by woody rhizomes. They tend to move at a moderate rate and are not considered invasive although they work well as a groundcover.

PGC-P-Epimedium-x-rubrum-2010-01The foliage of epimediums is called "semi-evergreen" which means that, in areas with mild winters, the foliage maintains itself through the winter. In severe winters, the foliage may be damaged and need to be cut down in the early spring to encourage new growth.

They have compound leaves with 3 leaflets of a leathery texture. Most of them have smooth, shiny leaves during the growing season. The new foliage may emerge with shades of red before turning dark green. At the end of the season, may epimediums display a bronze to red foliage.

The flowers are delicate and droop or nod from the flower scape. They have 4 inner and 4 outer sepals and may be spurred or hooded. Epimediums rarely set seed which might indicate that they are self-sterile.

PGC-P-Epimedium-x-youngianum-2010-01Overall, this species is easy to grow but will not tolerate full sun and dry soils. In shade with adequate moisture, they will spread their rhizomes slowly to fill an area as a ground cover.

In historical times, a drug meant to prevent women from conception was extracted from the root of a plant that resembles epimedium. Thus the common name of "Barrenwort."

People thought that the 4 sepaled flowers resembled the typical "Bishop's Hat" common in earlier times.

Epimedium alpinum Alpine Epimedium
E. grandiflorum Longspur Epimedium, Bishop's Hat
E. x perralchicum Yellow Epimedium
E. pinnatum Persian Epimedium
Epimedium pinnatum subsp colchicum Golden Fleece
E. x rubrum
(E. alpinum rubrum)
Red Alpine Epimedium
E. x versicolor Sulphur Barrenwort
E. x youngianum Young's Barrenwort

Species Hgt
Flower Spurs?
E. alpinum 6-9 dull red Yes
E. grandiflorum 8-12 pale pink Yes
E. perraldemianum 10-12 yellow No
E. pinnatum 8-12 yellow No
E. x rubrum 8-12 bright red No
E. x youngianum 6-8 white No

* Guides and Keys are from the book "Herbaceous Perennial Plants A Treatise on their Identification, Culture and Garden Attributes" by Dr Allan M. Armitage of the University of Georgia. Varsity Press, Athens, Georgia. 1989 ISBN 0-942375-00. More on Dr Armitage and his other books.


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