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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

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Colorful Combinations

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.

See more great landscape edging plants like barrenwort here.

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

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

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.

'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.

Plant Barrenwort With:

Hellebores are so easy and so pretty, they have a place in nearly every landscape. Their exquisite bowl- or saucer-shape flowers in white (often speckled), pinks, yellows, or maroon remain on the plant for several months, even after the petals have fallen. Deer-resistant and mostly evergreen, hellebores' divided leaves rise on sturdy stems and may be serrated (like a knife) along the edges. They do best in shade where soil remains moist; some prefer acid or alkaline conditions, depending on variety.
Perfect for cottage and woodland gardens, old-fashioned columbines are available in almost all colors of the rainbow. Intricate little flowers, they are most commonly a combination of red, peach, and yellow but also blues, whites, pure yellows, and pinks; they look almost like folded paper lanterns.Columbine thrives in sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Plants tend to be short-lived but self-seed readily, often creating natural hybrids with other nearby columbines. If you want to prevent self-seeding, deadhead plants after bloom.
Perennial geranium
One of the longest bloomers in the garden, hardy geranium bears little flowers for months at a time. It produces jewel-tone, saucer-shape flowers and mounds of handsome, lobed foliage. It needs full sun, but otherwise it is a tough and reliable plant, thriving in a wide assortment of soils. Many of the best are hybrids. Perennial geraniums may form large colonies.
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