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Night Mistress

Epimedium with short flower spikes and large spider-type flowers

This article in the Epimedium series catalogs Epimedium species by their plant form and flower types in order to help you select the best plants for your site. There are too many Epimediums to list in a single article so check out the others in the series to see other categories such as white Epimediums or large Epimediums. The next group are evergreen epimediums that have large flowers in pink to white, but are borne on short flower stalks. Epimedium brachyrrhizum, first described from China in 1997 is similar to another species, Epimedium leptorrhizum (Zone 5-8) that has been known since 1938. Both have spreading rhizomes with Epimedium brachyrrhizum possessing a thicker rhizome, spreading considerably slower. For us E. leptorrhizum never exceeds 6″ in height, while E. brachyrrhizum typically reaches 1′ tall. Both evergreen species are topped in early spring with very short flower spikes of 8-12 flowers ranging from pink to lavender, and occasionally white. E. brachyrrhizum (Zone 5-8) is represented in the trade by two hard to find cultivars Epimedium ‘Elfin Magic’, and soon, the white flowered PDN selection Epimedium ‘Little Angels’. The foliage of E. brachyrrhizum turns a nice shade of lavender in the winter. Epimedium ogisui(1993) (Zone 6-9) is a similar spreading evergreen species with near horizontal spikes of large white flowers. The Chinese Epimedium epsteinii (Zone 5b-8), also named in 1997, is a similar evergreen species with short, but spreading rhizomes and short flowers spikes, sporting up to 12 large bicolored inflorescences of purple cups and spurs, backed by a white outer sepal. Plants in this group make superb groundcovers, often with attractive red mottled foliage. Some of the most showy epimediums are those with large flowers on long spikes. The evergreen Epimedium acuminatum (Zone 5-8) from limestone cliffs in the Southern Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan leads this list along with its hybrid, Epimedium x omeiense (acuminatum x fangii). E. x omeiense is fairly new to cultivation, first flowering in cultivation in 1982 (W. Stearn 2002). In our studies, the primary easily visible difference is that Epimedium acuminatum has smaller, narrower leaves and is shorter in stature, 12″ tall for E. acuminatum, compared to 24″ tall for E. x omeiense. E. acuminatum flowers with 18″ long arching spikes, each adorned with up to 50 large flowers composed of long dark purple spurs, highlighted by pale lavender inner sepals. The flowers are so large, the spikes can become quite heavy, so much that their tips nearly touch the ground. For this reason, I recommend both E. acuminatum and E. x omeiense be planted atop a berm, so the flowers can be better enjoyed. Both E. acuminatum and E. x omeiense are prized for their long-pointed and wonderfully mahogany mottled leaves. Compared to the tight clumping species, this is a reasonably good spreading species. Heronswood’s E. acuminatum ‘Ruby Star’ (white sepals, lavender spurs, and a purple cup), and Darrell Probst’s E. acuminatum ‘Night Mistress’ (pink spurs, purple spurs, and a purple cup) are the two easiest to find clones on the market. Mikinori Ogisu=s wild collected clone of E. x omeiense released as Epimedium ‘Stormcloud’, Dan Hinkley’s ‘Myriad Years’ (white sepals, light lavender spurs and a purple cup), and the Japanese ‘Akane’ Epimedium are the easiest to find in the market.