It was around 15 years ago when I first heard about the genus Epimedium. This was while we lived in North Carolina and I worked at Plant Delights Nursery. Here was an evergreen groundcover that flowered, could grow in the shade, and was pretty tough. Since that time, whenever I hear anyone talk about Epimedium they usually refer to it as an underrated and underused perennial. Well, that has been 15 years so it is high time that more of us gardeners need to get on with it and plant Epimedium. And I forgot to mention that deer do not like to eat them.
At Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, we are working on developing a collection of Epimedium or “fairy wings” (as they are commonly called) in the gardens. Of all the plants in our collection, one that has really caught my attention is Epimedium wushanense. A friend had posted a picture of his on Facebook and it reminded me to take a closer look at ours. It stands out by having spiny looking leaves. The leaves are also much larger than most species, up to 10″ long with irregular, red tints to the leaves as well. All Epimedium have unique flowers and E. wushanense differs from other Epimedium by having smaller flowers with more on each spike.
As an aside, if you, like me, have kids and have seen the movie Kung Fu Panda, then this plant brings to mind the wushi finger hold. Maybe not… ok, back to this week’s plant.
Hardy to USDA zone 5 or 6 (it is so uncommon that we are not sure yet), Epimedium wushanense is one plant to add to that spot where you struggle to grow most everything else: shade, dry, with deer, etc. It will prefer a slightly well-drained soil with adequate moisture until established. Once established, it will form a nice clump. It will lose its leaves during the winter in a colder climate but is beautiful when emerging in the spring.
Epimedium wushanense was introduced by the former owner of Garden Vision Nursery, Darrell Probst. This species comes from the Wushan Mountains of the Sichuan province of China.
As you are plant shopping this spring, be sure to add an Epimedium or two or three to your garden. And if you come across E. wushanense, pick one up and give it a try. You are sure to impress your plant geek friends this summer!
Photos: plantsnouveau.com, collectorsnursery.com, art.ngfiles.com, Rodney Eason