By Mark Lyke
Remember when you were young and it was love at first sight? It won’t be that way with Epimediums, but once you add them to your garden, you will appreciate this specimen for its reliability, durability, and style. Once the bond has formed you will be looking for other species in this genus to add while looking for new plants.
A member of the Berberidaceae, or barberry, Epimedium is commonly called by a list of other names including bishop’s cap and barrenwort. Members of this family are tough and sturdy; they include Mahonia, Berberis and Vancouveria. This grouping is native to woodlands and shady, rocky sites from eastern Mediterranean to eastern Asia. Epimedium species have been introduced recently by intrepid plant explorers like Darrell Probst and Dan Hinkley (our local star.) Barrenwort refers to the pharmaceutical properties of this plant, and which is also associated with human fertility. The flowers have been stated to look like small orchids or similar to the shape of a bishop’s cap. The plant typically will produce oval, heart shaped or shield leaflets in groups of three to fifty. Their wiry stem provides a buoyant movement of the leaves with just a slight breeze.
Considered a perfect groundcover for moist or dry shade, a number of the species and cultivars are evergreen and many will remind you of a maple leaf changing color as fall returns. Some gardeners remove all leaves by cutting them to the ground in the fall so that they can enjoy the sprays of orchid like flowers that will arrive in spring. The leaves will regenerate after the flowers have had their moment of glory. The sprays can be white, yellow, pink orange or lavender depending on the species.
Epimediums are one of those plants that can take the abuse that other plants will not tolerate. Many species can be found growing at Lakewold. There are nice specimens of this ground cover at the end of the Dog Path and in the Fern Garden. Stop by and select some of the beautiful specimens that can be found at Lakewold’s Garden Shop, 12317 Gravelly Lake Drive SW, Lakewood, WA 98499. Open hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm.
*Plant type: Low growing
*Foliage type: Heart shaped, varied
*Height: inches Approx. 18-24 inches
*Plant spread: Slowly creeping, 1-2 feet
*Hardiness: USDA Zones 2-9
*Flower color: Varied by specimen
*Sun/light exposure: Partial Shade
*Water requirements: Average to dry