Epimedium brevicornu

Common Name: bishop's hat 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Berberidaceae
Native Range: China
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Purple and white
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Ground Cover, Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Rabbit, Deer, Drought, Heavy Shade, Erosion, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil


Easily grown in average, acidic, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers loose, organically rich loams with consistent moisture in part shade (sun dappled or morning sun). Foliage will usually burn in full afternoon sun. Tolerates full shade. Also tolerates drought and dry shade (rhizomes hold moisture) once established. Intolerant of alkaline soils. Clumps spread somewhat slowly by creeping rhizomes, but will form attractive colonies over time. Foliage is basically deciduous. Cut back any remaining old foliage in late winter if needed. Propagate by division in early spring or fall.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Epimedium brevicornu is a rhizomatous, deciduous perennial that is noted for producing an abundant late spring bloom of small but attractive, short-spurred, nodding, purple and white flowers (each 1-2" across) which bloom in compound inflorescences (10-50 flowers per inflorescence) in spring (April-May) atop flowering stems rising above an attractive foliage clump of green usually biternate leaves (9 leaflets) to as much as 24" tall. This epimedium is native to woodlands, thickets and slopes in central to north central China (Gansu, Henan, Hubei, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shanxi and northwestern Sichuan provinces). Each flower features four showy spurred purple petals and eight sepals (four petal-like ovate-elliptic white to pale yellow inner sepals and four much smaller light purple outer sepals which drop at the time of bloom). Each flowering stem bears two opposite biternate leaves. Leaves are basal and cauline. Papery, ovate to broad-ovate leaflets (to 3" long) have spiny marginal teeth, short-acuminate tips and deep cordate bases. New leaves emerge in spring with a pink-maroon cast, but mature to medium to dark green.

Genus name is of unclear origin and meaning but the Greeks used epimedion for a very different plant.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin words brevis meaning short and cornu meaning horn in reference to the short flower petals on this species.

Epimediums are also commonly called bishop’s hat (four-spurred flowers resemble clergyman's biretta) or barrenwort (root extract was once believed to prevent female conception).


No serious insect or disease problems. Mosaic virus (transmitted by aphids) is the main disease problem.


Ground cover or edger for shady areas. Mass in woodland gardens, wild gardens or naturalized areas. Also effective in partially shaded areas of rock gardens and border fronts. Grows well under trees. Edger for paths and walkways.