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The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support
or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension
office for plants suitable for your region.
Patience is a virtue. We all know the old refrain, but it always surprises me how
few people really believe it, let alone practice it. Even gardeners fall into the
impatience quagmire, often choosing fast growing and easy over slow, steady performers.
Perhaps this explains why plants such as the Barrenwort are not more common in our
gardens. They are plants to test the patience of gardeners, but they always reward
in the end.
Of the several dozen epimediums available from nurserymen, the most common and one
of the showiest is the white-flowered Epimedium grandiflorum. It grows about a foot tall with the white, four-pointed blooms held in panicles
above the foliage in mid spring - about the time azaleas begin to bloom. It is native
to Japan and Manchuria in China.
The flowers look like they were designed by a committee of Chinese artists intending
to create something fantastic, yet still beautiful and delicate. The four long, narrow
spurs radiate outwards and are about an inch and a half across. Below the petals are
four petal-like sepals that are suffused with shades of purple or rose. The center
of the flower protrudes outward forming an almost square opening through which pollinating
insects reach the working of the flower.
The foliage is likewise beautiful. When flowering is finished the plants stand about
eight inches tall with semi-evergreen leaves that take on a maroon cast in winter.
They are not killed until temperatures reach about 15°F. Leaves are compounded with
delicate, 2-inch long, asymmetrical leaflets produced in three groups of three (triternate)
on wiry stem arising from the base of the plant. Epimediums belong to the barberry
family, and like most members of that group, spread by means of an underground rhizome.
Now for the bad news. The planting of epimediums I am currently admiring was planted
six years ago and each clump is only about a foot in diameter. To be honest, the first
three years the plants were so small they were insignificant in my garden. But, since
the third year the clump has steadily, all be it slowly, increased in size and beauty.
Epimediums are undergoing a surge in popularity unknown to this understated perennial.
This increased popularity has all occurred since 1975 when plant explorers were permitted
back into the mountains of western China. Of the 44 species now recognized by botanists,
36 have been introduced since the reopening of China to the West. Dan Hinkley, the
proprietor of Heronswood Nursery in Kingston, Wash., has made several expeditions
into the region and lists a number of his own introductions in his current catalog.
Epimediums are woodland plants that are often described as useful for groundcover
planting. While they make excellent groundcovers, this is rarely ever seen because
the plants are slow growing and expensive to procure. Most of us limit our admiration
to modest clumps in an informal woodland garden or shaded rock garden.
A soil well amended with organic matter and moderately moist during the summer will
speed growth and establishment, but they will survive more difficult conditions once
established. One planting of E. grandiflorum I oversee is beneath a sugar maple in a raised bed. No matter how often this bed is
watered, the soil is always bone dry, yet the plants continue to slowly expand. To
fully appreciate the beauty of the plants, cut them back to the ground in late winter
before new growth emerges in early spring. I have never noticed any insect interest
in this plant.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals Extension News - April 4, 2003
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists
of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery
or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing