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Although barrenwort may look delicate, it’s anything but fragile. Thriving in shade and in humidity levels ranging from arid to moist, barrenwort displays colorful foliage as well as early-spring flowers. This plant makes a wonderful groundcover in shady areas and tolerates root competition beneath trees and shrubs. Depending on the species, barrenwort can be evergreen or semievergreen, which adds winter interest to its list of attributes.
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Part Sun, Shade
From 6 inches to 3 feet
From 1 to 3 feet
garden plans for Barrenwort
Barrenwort reigns as the rock star of shade gardens thanks to its multiseason interest. The display starts in spring with foliage emerging in shades of red, gold, and burgundy. The leaves also often feature delicate veining. They mature to a deep green and become thick and leathery, helping them tolerate rough conditions. Along with barrenwort's colorful spring foliage, it sets dainty flowers in shades of pink, yellow, orange, white, and red. The four-petal blooms are sometimes referred to as fairy wings or bishop's caps.
Barrenwort Care Must-Knows
Barrenwort grows in soil conditions ranging from dry in shade to wet in the wild. When planting this perennial make sure its woody rhizomatous roots (aka rhizomes) sit just below the soil surface. If planted too deep, the plants may rot or flower late. To divide barrenwort, dig up the plants before they flower in spring. Tease apart the rhizomes, or cut them apart with a sterile sharp knife. Then share the rhizomes with friends and neighbors. Barrenwort can be divided in fall the same way, but remove about one-third of the foliage to reduce the stress of supporting top growth yet leave enough foliage to encourage new roots.
Although barrenwort happily tolerates full shade, planting it in part sun results in the brightest colors and greatest number of blossoms. Try to avoid intense late afternoon sun, which is likely to burn the foliage. This is particularly important with evergreen varieties, which are less hardy than deciduous ones.
A relative newcomer to the Western world, barrenwort's latest varieties feature taller flower stalks that emphasize the blooms. Other hybrids feature intriguingly mottled foliage. And breeders are developing interesting bicolor blooms for even more interest.