Barrenwort

Barrenwort
Plant Type
Sunlight Amount
epimedium, barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat
Credit: Marty Baldwin
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epimedium, barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat

Barrenwort

Although barrenwort may look delicate, it’s anything but fragile. Thriving in low light, 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 semi-evergreen, which adds winter interest to its list of attributes.

genus name
  • Epimedium
light
  • Part Sun
  • Shade
plant type
height
  • 6 to 12 inches
  • 1 to 3 feet
width
  • From 1 to 3 feet
flower color
foliage color
season features
problem solvers
special features
zones
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
propagation

Colorful Combinations

Barrenwort reigns as the rock star of shade gardens, thanks to its multi-season 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 tough conditions. Along with colorful spring foliage, barrenwort produces 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, or plant them in new areas of your yard. 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, while leaving enough foliage to fuel the growth of new roots.

Although barrenwort tolerates full shade, planting it in part shade 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.

New Innovations

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.

More Varieties of Barrenwort

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'Sulphureum' bicolor barrenwort
Credit: Andy Lyons

'Sulphureum' Bicolor Barrenwort

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' has whitish blooms with a yellow center. Its evergreen foliage grows 8-12 inches tall. Zones 5-9.

Red barrenwort
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

Red Barrenwort

Epimedium rubrum foliage is red along the edges and has rosy undertones. Its color intensifies where it receives ample sun before trees leaf out in spring. Zones 4-9.

'Rose Queen' longspur barrenwort
Credit: Bob Stefko

'Rose Queen' Longspur Barrenwort

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Rose Queen' has the largest flowers of the group at 1-3/4 inches wide. It grows 1 foot tall. Zones 5-8.

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