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What is an Epimedium Plant?

Here's an in-depth look at the epimedium plant where you can learn about its characteristics, growing conditions, uses, and some of its species. We've also added some tips on how to grow these nifty bulbous perennials.

Lovely tiny white and yellow epimedium flowers growing amongst huge heart shaped maroon flowers in the forest

Genus Epimedium

Members of the genus epimedium are also common referred to as a barrenwort plant, a bishop’s hat, fairy wings, or as horny goat weed.

We know what you’re thinking, “horny goat weed? What kind of name is that?” Well, epimedium plants have long been known as an aphrodisiac according to traditional Chinese medicine practices.

These nifty bulbous perennial plants are a native species to certain regions of China, though the different epimedium species vary in appearance.

There are many different varieties to choose from based of foliage and flower color, though all of them are highly valued for their attractive leaves and dainty spider shaped flowers, and make for an excellent addition to your shade garden, rock garden, or woodland garden.

The epimedium plant is just one of many types that we cover in our Awesome List of Flowering Plants from all over the world. There we cover everything, from succulents to ornamental grasses, shrubs to ground cover plants, and wonderfully low maintenance to awkwardly high maintenance plants. Head on over to discover your next garden addition!

Lovely bright orange and peach colored epimedium flowers with 4 petals growing in the sunshine

Related: Sun-Loving Flowers | Water-Loving Flowers | Shade-Loving Flowers | Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flower Colors

Looking down at a dense canopy of red and green heart shaped epimedium leaves

What do Epimedium Plants Look Like?

Flowers

There are certain variable qualities to epimedium flowers depending on the species, though their flower parts all grow in 4 parts.

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First, flowers are comprised of 4 small outer sepals. These are most commonly a lighter green color and shed away once the blossom opens up completely; this usually happen in the late spring to early summer.

These are followed by 4 larger petal-like inner sepals that are an accent color, and the most ornamental part of the flower.

This creates a small and flat flower that is likened to the shape of a spider. They are slightly complex looking, with long anthers and an interesting looking nectar producing spur.

The common name for an epimedium flower, “bishop’s hat”, is in reference to the shape of these flowers – especially when they are a species that growth very long anthers.

Bright purple epimedium flowers that resemble spiders growing beside large heart shaped leaves

Leaves

These plants will usually grow compound leaves comprised of 3 leaflets. Each leaflet will have a very spiny margin and leathery texture. They produce either evergreen leaves or deciduous leaves.

Color will vary depending on the species, though many of them will first emerge as a very decorative color, like bronze, burgundy, or salmon pink, and will eventually fade to an olive green color later on in the season.

This attractive foliage is one of the reasons why these plants are so coveted as an evergreen garden species, for their unusual epimedium leaf color.

Growth Pattern

Epimedium plants are usually herbaceous perennials that grow from underground rhizomes (which are large bulbous root systems). Growth habits vary depending on the species.

There are some that will grow a solitary stem with basal leaves, and others that exhibit a tufting habit with multiple stems that grow closely together. Heights will also vary depending on the species, usually ranging between 6 and 30 inches.

Amazing bicolor epimedium flowers of white and maroon growing along thin wiry stems with leathery textured leaves

What are Some Epimedium Species?

Epimedium Epsteinii

Epimedium epsteinii is a species with more elongated heart shaped evergreen foliage with a feathered edge. Leaves will emerge either dark bronze or copper, and will slowly fade to a delicate green by the summer.

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It grows to be about 10 inches tall, and at the end of these erect stems will blossom showy bicolored flowers of white and burgundy. They bloom in the early spring.

Epimedium Wushanense

Epimedium wushanense is a species of evergreen species of perennial. It grows to be at least 24 inches in height with very tall, green, erect stems.

Along these stems grow long shiny leaves with very spiny edges. When young, they will emerge as a lovely pink/bronze leaf color, before fading to a mild green.

Flowers emerge at the ends of long stems and are large and pale yellow. They provide a lovely contrast to the low mound attractive foliage.

Epimedium Grandiflorum

Macro image of epimedium grandiflorum flowers of light purple with long sepals and a dark blurry background

Also known by the name of large flowered barrenwort, this variety is a deciduous perennial plant species. This is the variety that is most commonly incorporated as an aphrodisiac supplement according to traditional Chinese medicine.

Epimedium grandiflorum grows to be about 12 inches in height. It bears bright red stems, heart shaped leaves, and flowers that can be white, yellow, purple, or pink.

Epimedium Brevicornum

Epimedium brevicornum is a deciduous flowering plant that exhibits a clumping growth habit. It produces small, rounded heart shaped leaflets that are decorated with purple speckles.

Flowers are produced as a flurry of small white flower clusters with yellow accents. The entire plant will be anywhere from 12-20 inches tall, with several erect flower stems.

Epimedium Lishihchenii

Epimedium lishihchenii is a herbaceous perennial rhizomatous plant. This one grows to be about 12 inches tall and grows wiry stems.

At the ends of these stems you will find a yellow flower that blooms in the spring, and exhibits a semblance to a spider.

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It produces lanceolate shaped leaves with a leathery texture. They first emerge a gorgeous salmon pink color, and eventually turns to a dark green color in summer.

Epimedium Sagittatum

Beautiful white and yellow epimedium saggitatum flowers in bloom with some still closed up against a blurry background

Epimedium sagittatum is another variety that is used as an aphrodisiac supplement, but is also a very popular groundcover plant as well.This species can grow to be around 20 inches tall in clumps if erect stems.

These stems are adorned with pale green heart shaped leaves that turn a beautiful light bronze color in autumn. Flowers are a beautiful pale pink color, and they tower above the lower basal leaves.

Epimedium Koreanum

One of the most elegant looking of the epimedium genus, is epimedium koreanum. It produces huge creamy yellow flowers at the end of 18 inch erect stems.

Foliage is as equally beautiful, with a dark burgundy color and purple edging. This herbaceous perennial is common for groundcover planting.

Epimedium Leptorrhizum

Epimedium leptorrhizum is a low growing, evergreen rhizomatous perennial plant. It produces wiry stemmed foliage that only grows to be about 8 inches in height.

Though short, they bear the largest and most beautiful epimedium flowers. They are rose pink flowers with white accents that bloom in the spring.

Leaves are cordite shaped that remain an olive green color with white undersides and very spiny margins. They are a coveted groundcover plant.

Epimedium flowers bicolor of white and maroon growing in the sunshine against light green leaves

Where are Epimedium Plants Native to?

Epimedium plants are native species to the eastern parts of eastern Asia and the Mediterranean, though they have become naturalized in USDA growing zones 3 through 9.

In their native habitat, they can be found growing in the wild in shaded rocky places and within woodland scrubs as well.

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How do you Grow an Epimedium Plant?

Epimedium plants is best propagated through rhizome division. They should be divided in the late summer, and kept in a dry and dark place over the winter.

They can be started indoors in the late winter, if they are kept under glass in a sunny window. Only attempt to transplant them outdoors once the very last threat of frost has passed.

In the early spring, they can be transplanted into your garden in an area that receives dappled shade, and has soil that is well drained and rich in nutrients.

These conditions will ensure that in the early spring, the rhizome will be healthy and ready to promote rapid growth of shoots for the coming blossom season.

White epimedium flowers growing in a large garden with beautiful red and green heart shaped flowers

What are the Growing Conditions of Epimedium?

Though epimedium plants are not particularly high maintenance, it can be rather tricky to try and attempt to mimic their native woodland habitat.

If a gardener can accomplish mimicking these conditions, they will be gifted with a wonderfully low maintenance plant that will continue to produce unique blossoms year after year.

Soil Type

When growing in the wild, epimediums grow in humus rich soil. It is free draining and moist, and is fertilized by the decomposition of fallen deciduous tree leaves.

When it comes to your garden, simply ensure that they are provided with very fertile soil that is moist yet well drained.

Sun Exposure

Since we known that epimedium plants grow in woodlands in the wild, it’s safe to assume that they appreciate partial shade. Full sun would be too harsh, and may result in leaf scorch.

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It is best that they receive morning sun and partial shade in the heat of the afternoon, and they can handle dry shade if there happens to be a drought.

Water Level

Epimedium plants have average water needs, though it is important that soil is not left to dry out completely, as these plants are not very drought tolerant.

A neat way to help ensure that soil remains moist in by covering the top soil with a layer of mulch. This will help retain moisture, and will also protect the rhizome roots during the colder months.

Tiny yellow epimedium flowers growing along thin stalks contrasted against dark green basal leaves growing in the forest

Temperature

Like most other rhizome growing plants, epimediums are a decently cold tolerant plant species. It is safe to leave their bulbs in the ground over the winter, as long as you don’t live in the bitter north (yes, we’re talking to you, Canada). They can exist in USDA growing zones 3 through 9.

Fertilizer

The best way to fertilize an epimedium plant is through organic compost, or through decomposing garden waste.

When growing in the wild, they are accustom to receiving nutrients from the surrounding forest debris that decomposes over the seasons.

Pruning

If you’re looking for a more manicured look, prune an epimedium plant by cutting off older foliage right at the ground level, right before the spring leaves are due to emerge. This way the old, dull colored leaves won’t conceal the dramatic fresh leaves.

Intolerances

At the end of the day, growing epimedium isn’t all that tricky. Simply remember that they are drought intolerant, poor nutrient soil intolerant, and prefer not to exist in full sun conditions.

Dainty and darling orange epimedium flowers growing along thin stalks in the sunshine

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