Content Detail

There are several species of barrenwort that are commonly used as ground covers, and longspur barrenwort is one of the showiest, due to its relatively large flowers. Other species and hybrids of barrenwort are listed at the end of this page. All of them do well in shady sites.

  • Family (English) Barberry
  • Family (botanic) Berberidaceae
  • Tree or plant type Ground cover, Perennial
  • Native locale Non-native
  • Size range Small plant (6-12 inches), Medium plant (12-24 inches)
  • Light exposure Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Dry sites
  • Season of interest mid spring, late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
  • Shape or form Mounded, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate, Slow

Size and Method of spreading:

Longspur barrenwort grows up to 12 inches high and is a colonizing ground cover. Colonizing ground covers produce underground stems that spread out horizontally and shallowly, produce roots and then send up new shoots. These plants can be strong growers. Longspur barrenwort is more controlled, growing to about 20 inches wide.

Native geographic location and habitat:

This groundcover is native to Asia.

Leaf description:

The compound leaves are mostly basal with heart-shaped leaflets. Emerging leaves often have a coppery color, but they mature to a medium green. In autumn, the leaves take on a bronze cast.

Flower description:

Longspur barrenwort has the largest flowers of the commonly sold species. Flowers may be up to 1 1/2 inches wide and are a mix of colors, red, purple, and white. Flowers are produced in spring. Cultivated varieties may differ.

Fruit description:

The fruit are capsules and not ornamentally important.

Plant care:

Growing in partial to full shade is best as this plant can burn in full sun sites.  Moist, well-drained sites are preferred, but barrenwort will tolerate some dryness as well. Slightly acidic pH soil is best.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Tobacco rattle virus can occur on this plant. Barrenwort is resistant to deer and tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Lilafee longspur barrenwort (Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’): 

This cultivar has purple flowers. It is sometimes sold under the name ‘Lilac Fairy.’

Orange Queen longspur barrenwort (Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Orange Queen’):

This cultivar has copper-orange flowers.

Queen Esta longspur barrenwort (Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Queen Esta’): 

This cultivar has purple flowers and its leaves emerge with a purple cast, then mature to green. In autumn, its foliage turns red.

Related species and their cultivars

Frohnleiten barrenwort (Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’): 

This compact cultivar grows 4 to 6 inches high with bright yellow flowers.

Red barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum):  

Red flowers bloom on this cultivar. Its spring foliage is tinged with red while autumn foliage is bronze.

Yellow barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’):

This cultivar has yellow flowers. Its spring foliage is tinged with red and autumn foliage is reddish.

Young’s barrenwort (Epimedium x youngianum):  

This compact species grows 6 to 8 inches high. Pink to white flowers emerge in spring, but slightly later than other species.

  • Pink Young’s barrenwort (Epimedium x youngianum ‘Roseum’): 

    Flowers on this cultivar are purplish-pink flowers.

  • White Young’s barrenwort (Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’):

     Flowers on this cultivar are white.


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