March: Epimedium

This month's featured plant is one of my favorite perennials. Epimedium is a adaptable, four season, shade loving, drought tolerant spreading perennial that makes a great bed edge or groundcover. Did I mention that it has almost no pest and disease problems, and that deer and rabbits leave it alone? And it has unique spring flowers. It deserves a spot in any landscape with shade, and it's a shame it isn't more widely known in Indiana.

 By Wikimedia User: SB_Johnny - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Wikimedia User: SB_Johnny - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

In addition to having countless beneficial features, Epimedium also has more common names than I know of for any other plant, so I refer to it by its scientific name to avoid confusion. The uniquely shaped flowers have earned it the names Bishop's Hat and Fairy Wings. It was once believed to be a contraceptive, which earned it the name Barrenwort. One of its less common names is Horny Goat Weed, and I'll let you guess where that name came from. There are a handful of species and hybrids of Epimedium that are grown for landscape use with a range of varieties available, but all originate in Asia. Different varieties have different flower colors and sizes, but all varieties start off early in the spring with a fresh flush of pink and red tinged heart-shaped leaves that mature to a bright green that lasts all the way through the growing season and into the winter.

Common Name: Barrenwort, 
Scientific Name: Epimedium species and hybrids
Notable Varieties: E. grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (large, pink-purple flowers, taller foliage), E. x rubrum (red and white flowers), E. x versicolor 'Sulphureum' (yellow flowers)
Light: partial shade to dense shade
Size: foliage grows 6-18" depending on variety with flower stalks above that; slowly spreads by underground stems to fill desired area, but can be maintained in a specific area
Soil: doesn't like compaction or very wet soils, but tolerant of many other conditions
Blooms: pink, purple, red, yellow, peach, or white flowers in April or May depending on variety
Other Notes: tolerates dry soil once established; can be used as groundcover; deer and rabbits don't eat it; tolerates very dense shade

See other plants of the month.

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