17 Lovely Epimedium Varieties for Your Shade Backyard

Epimediums are low-growing, compact perennials that bring color, texture, and form to the shade garden for multi-season appeal. They produce colorful foliage with dramatic mottling, blotching, and venation, as well as orchid-like flowers with delicate spurs.

The delicate look of the plant belies its durable nature. It is low-maintenance and grows in conditions that other perennials may find challenging. This woodlander is ideal in partial to full-shade garden locations and tolerate dry conditions when established.

Epimediums (also called barrenwort and fairy wings) make lovely accents in woodland plantings, borders, rock gardens, cottage gardens, and Asian-inspired garden plantings. Pair them in groups with other shade-loving perennials like ferns, astilbe, hellebore, wild ginger, columbine, bleeding heart, and hosta for gorgeous multi-season combinations.

Epimediums grow with little gardener intervention. These carefree beauties resist deer, pests, and diseases and tolerate deep shade and dry soils when established. Their shallow roots make them well-suited to planting beneath trees, where they don’t compete for resources. Here, we’ll explore epimedium varieties to enliven the garden. This unique perennial is worth incorporating into your plant collection.

‘Amber Queen’

This woodland ground cover is small but durable.

Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ blooms in a profusion of delicate golden flowers along arching 24-inch stems. Spidery flowers have bronze-yellow spurs and orange-red centers, bringing a sunny cloud of clustered blooms in spring.

Leaves are bright green with a rose-burgundy blush as they emerge. Plants are evergreen or semi-evergreen and grow two feet wide.

This is one of the most vigorous varieties available, hybridized by the UK’s Robin White. It has prolific flowering, mottled leaves, and rugged durability. A Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit recipient, ‘Amber Queen’ is a small but mighty woodland ground cover.


A close-up of Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ showing its delicate yellow flowers blooming on thin branches.Plants can grow up to 16 inches tall and spread to 18 inches.

Epimedium x versicolor is a striking selection for its color-changing leaves. ‘Sulphureum’ is an award-winning variety whose new leaves emerge light green with red mottling, mature to deeper green, and turn red again in the fall. Open sprays of creamy yellow flowers appear on dark red stems.

E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ is a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. An older hybrid selected prior to 1849, ‘Sulphureum’ fills in more quickly than other varieties and has a particularly tough nature, durable in dry shade.

Evergreen foliage beautifully contrasts the light flower scapes. Plants reach 12 inches tall and spread up to 18 inches.


A close-up of Epimedium ‘Domino’ highlighting its unique dark violet and white flowers against lush green foliage.Established plants produce abundant bloom spikes for a colorful spring.

‘Domino’ is a hybrid from renowned breeder Darrel Probst of Massachusetts, who is responsible for many epimedium introductions loved in today’s gardens. ‘Domino’ brings dancing flowers with white spurs and deep pink centers on two-foot-tall flower spikes. In early spring, blooms appear in masses.

Evergreen foliage is deep green and mottled with dark purple-burgundy. Expert Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery advises that the attractive foliage may persist well into spring but is best cut back before delicate new growth and bloom spikes emerge to make room. Their established ‘Domino’ epimediums produce loads of bloom spikes for a floriferous spring display.

E. ‘Domino’ is another award-winning variety. The Royal Horticultural Society deemed it worthy of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit for its garden performance.


A close-up of Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ reveals delicate lavender flowers, against a backdrop of lush green foliage.This variety is a compact plant that flourishes in shade.

Epimedium grandiflorum is one of the original species in cultivation and one of the most vigorous growers. It’s also the parent plant to many additional cultivars.

Spring foliage emerges with a bronze-purple tinge and matures to medium green. E. grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ boasts clusters of lavender-violet flowers and evergreen foliage (except in colder climates, zones 5 and 6, where it’s mostly deciduous).

E. grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ grows to 18 inches tall and up to two feet wide. It is native to deciduous woodlands in Japan, Manchuria, and Korea. The plants tolerate deep shade and dry sites but are not suited to alkaline soils. They grow best in neutral or only slightly acidic soils.

‘Pretty in Pink’

A close-up of Epimedium ‘Pretty in Pink’ showcases charming purple flowers with delicate stamens, set against a backdrop of vibrant green leaves.‘Pretty in Pink’ showcases berry hues, from flowers to leaves.

This cultivar delights in berry hues of rose, blush, and pale pink from its flowers to its leaves. Blooms on upright stems have pale pink spurs, deep pink backs, and rose centers.

Epimedium ‘Pretty in Pink’ has bright green heart-shaped leaves with bronze rose patterning. The leaves drop late in the cold season, providing multi-season interest.

‘Pretty in Pink’ is a Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanic Garden introduction. An Epimedium grandiflorum hybrid, it bears tough and vigorous qualities in a lovely form. The plants are lower-growing, at 24 inches tall, with a spread of two to three feet.


A close-up reveals the delicate white flowers of Epimedium ‘Niveum’, nestled amidst thin branches, accompanied by vibrant green leaves, all set against a blurred woodland backdrop.This plant boasts white star flowers with yellow centers.

This snowy fairy wing features clusters of white flowers that bloom later in the season than other varieties. It is cold hardy down to zone 4. New growth emerges bright green with red streaks and blushes. Leaves turn green in the summer and bronzey-red in the fall.

E. x youngianum ‘Niveum’ has pure white star flowers with yellow centers that bloom on red stems in late spring. A petite and compact type, ‘Niveum’ grows six to eight inches tall with a spread of one and a half feet

E. x youngianum is a hybrid between E. diphyllum and E. grandiflorum and another Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit recipient. This deciduous epimedium brightens the shade garden with its bright flowers and foliage interest in spring, summer, and fall. Look for E. x youngianum ‘Royal Flush’ for a selection with vibrant red young leaves.

‘Orange Queen’

A close-up of the striking orange blooms of Epimedium ‘Orange Queen’, framed by the lush leaves and slender branches.Medium green leaves with purple-red tinges emerge in spring.

‘Orange Queen’ enchants with cups of coppery orange blooms in mid to late spring. The four-petaled flowers don’t have the long spurs of other varieties, showing off their perfect petal arrangement. The crisp blooms stand out in mellow red, orange, and gold shades.

In spring, medium green leaves emerge with purple-red tinges. They transition to fully green in summer and a bronzy red in the fall.

Epimedium x warleyense is a good cold-climate selection. It is winter hardy to zone 5 and evergreen in warmer climates. E. x warleyense is smaller and shorter than other epimediums and has a spread of one to two feet. Synonyms for ‘Orange Queen’ include ‘Orangekönigin’.


A close-up of Epimedium ‘Songbirds’, showcasing delicate yellow flowers with red-streaked petals, nestled among heart-shaped green leaves with reddish edges. Flowers are large, golden, with rosy pink centers.

The beauty is in the details of epimediums—delicate blooms above color-changing foliage on compact plants. For ‘Songbirds’, it’s also in its masses of blooms that cover plants in profusion. ‘Songbirds’ is among the most flowering epimediums, and its yellow spider blooms grace prolific flower stalks in abundance. Wiry stems rise well above the mounding foliage. 

With upright, arching spurs, each flower of E. ‘Songbirds’ resembles a little bird joining its flock. The flowers are large and golden with rosy pink centers. ‘Songbirds’ flowers later in spring but has a long bloom time among epimediums.

The foliage of ‘Songbirds’ is green and lance-shaped, with some purple spotting. Plants are evergreen in mild climates for interest well into winter.

‘Pink Champagne’

A close-up of Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’, featuring dainty pink flowers with creamy centers and spurs, adorned by glossy, serrated green leaves flushed with bronze.Plants clump and spread two to three feet.

‘Pink Champagne’ brings rose tones to the shade garden. Flowers have long white spurs with a pink blush and deep raspberry centers. Like ‘Pretty in Pink’, this variety features light and deep berry tones for a bit of woodland sparkle. ‘Pink Champagne’ is taller than ‘Pretty in Pink’.

Long, lanced semi-evergreen leaves have dark purple speckles and a pinky-red blush, more prominent with new spring leaves. Plants clump and spread two to three feet.

‘Pink Champagne’ is a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit recipient. Its wands of airy flowers appear in open sprays in mid to late spring.


 A close-up of Epimedium ‘Sweetheart’ showcasing fully bloomed Epimedium grandiflorum flowers with delicate pink petals, surrounded by slender branches, and vibrant green leaves.The attractive foliage showcases reddish hues in both spring and fall.

‘Sweeheart’s’ flowers are spurless or have short spurs. They have pale yellow and creamy white petals surrounded by rose-red sepals. Crimson and yellow tones give a strong contrast among the blooms.

One of the most unique features of ‘Sweetheart’ is its bright green heart-shaped leaves with striking red edges in spring. The leaves mature to green in summer, gaining a red blush in fall. 

E. rubrum is a cross between E. grandiflorum and E. alpinum and is a vigorous grower among epimediums. Attractive foliage is reddish both in spring and fall.

‘Sandy Claws’

A close-up of Epimedium ‘Sandy Claws’ featuring dainty flowers nestled on slender branches, complemented by the distinctive foliage characterized by its glossy, heart-shaped leaves in varying shades of green.Leaves mature to deep green in summer on low.

‘Sandy Claws’ boasts dramatic foliage in deep red, chocolatey-rose hues. Lance-shaped leaves are long and lined with spines. In mid-spring, creamy flowers appear in packed clusters on stems just above the foliage.

Leaves mature to deep green in summer on low, spreading plants that form clumps up to four feet. This selection prefers slightly more moderate climates and is hardy to zone 6.

‘Sandy Claws’ is a hybrid of the Chinese Epimedium wushanense, cultivated by Darrel Probst. It’s also known as ‘Spiny Leaves’. 

‘Spine Tingler’

A close-up of Epimedium 'Spine Tingler', featuring the vivid green spiky leaves, densely packed and elegantly arranged.This variety has received the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.

‘Spine Tingler’ is similar to ‘Sandy Claws’, although smaller in stature. Spiny eaves are less than one inch wide and emerge with a chocolate-rose tinge in spring. Soft yellow flower clusters with curving petals are short and float just above the foliage.

‘Spine Tingler’ is another Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit recipient and Darrel Probst introduction. Plants are hardy at least to zone 5, with some growers noting them as overwintering as low as zone 4.


A close-up of Epimedium 'Kaguyahime', showcasing delicate pink and white flowers with intricate, star-like patterns, surrounded by glossy, heart-shaped leaves.‘Kaguyahime’ epimediums bloom profusely in woodland plantings.

Epimedium ‘Kaguyahime’ hails from renowned plantsmen Mikinori Ogisu of Japan, who pioneered many of the varieties in cultivation. This pretty specimen has flowers with pinky rose sepals surrounding deep purple-red petals. 

‘Kaguyahime’ blooms are medium-sized but flower in profusion. Flower clusters rise above spreading foliage on 15- to 18-inch wiry stems. The plant’s large leaves are long and pointed arrows with spiny edges, and young leaves bear heavy red mottling.

‘Kaguyahime’ reflects the name of a princess in a historic Japanese tale and means “Shining Princess.” This epimedium is sure to shine in the springtime woodland planting.

‘Cherry Hearts’

A close-up of Epimedium 'Cherry Hearts' reveals delicate white flowers with intricate detailing and subtle pink accents, set against a backdrop of vibrant heart-shaped leaves.This plant thrives in moderate winters, forming tight clumps.

‘Cherry Hearts’ delights with its bright green foliage with painterly red edges. The heart-shaped leaves and red outlines create a sweet, fresh groundcover display. White flowers appear on one-foot stalks.

‘Candy Hearts’ is a variety similar to ‘Cherry Hearts’. It features lavender blooms above red-edged leaves.

Epimedium x sempervirens is an evergreen plant that thrives in areas with moderate winters. It forms tight clumps and spreads slightly one to two feet.


The plant forms one- to two-foot clumps.

Epimedium ‘Rigoletto’ (or ‘Akame’) bears lance-leaved evergreen foliage. Light spots of coppery red dot light green leaves.

Ornamental blooms in mid to late spring have short, rose-red sepals with creamy white tips on the spurs and yellow-orange centers. Leaves are narrow and heart-shaped for a full, delicate look.

‘Rigoletto’ is an Ogisu discovery of a naturally occurring cross. The plants form one- to two-foot clumps.


A close-up of Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’, featuring delicate yellow flowers with spidery petals and prominent stamens, set against slender, arching branches, with vibrant green leaves creating a lush background.This is a striking small plant with vibrant foliage and flowers.

‘Frohnleiten’ is a classic cultivar and a longstanding garden favorite. Sunny yellow flower clusters appear first in early spring, followed by striking foliage. Blooms are waxy with four rounded petals without the long spurs of more spidery selections.

Young leaves are burgundy red with bright green venation for a dramatic contrast. The heart-shaped evergreen leaves mature from red to green in the summer and take on bronzy-maroon mottling in the fall.

Compact plants form dense clumps 18 inches wide for a sturdy ground cover. ‘Frohnleiten’ is more dwarf than the species (which reaches one to two feet) but has brighter, taller blooms. This is a remarkable little fairy wing in foliage and flowers.


A close-up of Epimedium ‘Bandit’, showcasing elegant white flowers with intricate markings, emerging from a dense cluster of glossy, serrated leaves and wiry, burgundy-hued stems.Mature leaves turn all green in summer.

The cold-hardy fairy wings ‘Bandit’ steals the show for both springtime foliage and flowers. Starry white flowers with long spurs appear in masses above low leaves (under six inches tall), which become larger with a second flush. 

Fresh leaves unfurl to a red blush backed by bright green veins and leaves transition to green with a burgundy-purple border for a striking contrast. The second flush of larger leaves also boasts this dramatic foliar contrast with long-lasting color. Leaves mature to all green in summer.

‘Bandit’ is a small epimedium with a spread of one foot. It’s a petite plant packed with seasonal interest.

Final Thoughts:

Attractive and easy to grow, epimedium varieties grow in an array of color options in both flower and leaf. Many feature kaleidoscopic leaves with unique color transitions in spring, summer, and fall. Flowers emerge in spring in an array of colors and forms.

For gardeners familiar with growing epimediums, they’re likely among your favorite woodland and shade garden ground covers . These low-maintenance, long-lived fairy wings are delicate and durable in the landscape. We should grow more of these shade-loving perennials in our garden collections.

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