epimediums and columbines...compare and contrast

rouge21_gw(5)March 15, 2013

I have several aquilegia but no epimediums (and maybe I have never seen one 'in action'). So why do I have it in my mind that these two plants are kind of similar? Specifically I am thinking they have somewhat like delicate spring flowers with not special foliage that recedes as summer progresses?

(And of course both do well in quite shady conditions but with epimediums renowned for being able to handle that problematic dry shade.)

I would love to hear from GW members who have experience with both and can tell me what I am missing not having epimediums in my shade garden.

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aachenelf z5 Mpls

Nope. They are not similar. I only have a few columbine - self-sown unknowns - and they bloom for a good part of the summer. My only epimedium blooms for a very short time in early spring. The flowers are lovely, but the foliage is the main attraction. As you stated, they just can't be beat for dry shade.

Kevin

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 4:59PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

Thanks Kevin. So the foliage of epimideums don't recede/shrink as the summer progresses i.e. no dormancy as some other shade plants do in hot summer weather?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 5:58PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

Can't say they are similar to me either. They don't recede/shrink go dormant/semi-dormant in summer like ephemerals do. Most times the foliage stays pretty nice looking thru summer.

I would say Epi's are one of the most useful plants out there, since they handle dry shade, root-riddled shady areas well and only require a spring cut back (plus maybe after bloom, but not necessary for all). They don't set seed (maybe a few select species might) like columbine but spread via underground rhizomes, though some are more clumpers.

I've got five kinds, E. x rubrum, E. perralderianum, E. warleyense, and E. grandiflorum 'Lilifee' & 'Nanum'. I've got pictures of them, but can't imagine you would want all of them bogging down the thread, lol. If I had the space I might get several more of Epimediums. Heck, I may just clear out some room for more anyway! ;-)
CMK

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 6:44PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

No. And one of the common yellows is practically evergreen.

The big difference in my mind between epimediums and columbines is that epimediums are one of those 'covers themselves in flowers for a couple of weeks' plants.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 6:47PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I'm up to 12 different varieties of epimediums so far. They are one plant I would not be without. I'll tell you a story of what sold me on them. I bought a few for a family member who had asked me to help them redo their property and they had a huge Purple Beech in the yard that sucked everything out of the soil. I was trying to find something that would live up to those conditions and epimedium kept coming up. I couldn't go any closer to the tree than the drip line and they were doing ok the next season but I can't say how they did long term under that Beech because they sold the property soon after, but before they did, I was given some divisions of those epimediums and put them in my garden and promptly forgot about them. I wasn't doing much more than vegetable gardening at that point.

About four years later, I noticed how large the clumps had become and decided to divide them. I managed to do that and replant almost all of them, but one was left by accident in a pot and forgotten. Didn't water it all summer and when I found it in the fall, I thought it was done for and threw it on the compost pile upside down where it sat with it's roots exposed for another few weeks before fall leaves were added. I was pretty shocked the next season when I found that epimedium growing in the compost bin. I rescued it and replanted it and still have it. So they are hard to kill...lol.

They are not flashy, but they are extremely dependable and carefree. I plant them and forget them for the most part. I've always bought clumpers that have spread gently and never overrun anything. I've never seen a seedling in the yard from a seed. Their foliage has stayed clean and neat all season. They add a lot of substance and charm to the spring garden. In the fall many of them turn pretty shades of red. They grow in my darkest and driest corners. They grow right up to the trunks of Maple trees. They don't seem to have any pests that are interested in them. They have never developed any foliar disease in all the years I've had them. They divide easily and establish well without fussing. Did I mention they are pretty? :-)

This post was edited by prairiemoon2 on Fri, Mar 15, 13 at 20:07

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 7:59PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

And here is a pink and white one.....

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 8:00PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I like epimediums too but only have a few - because they seem to be hard to find and quite expensive around here.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 8:08PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Sign me up as a fan of epimediums. I do like columbine as well. Columbine seem to me a bit more "airy" and some varieties taller in the garden as opposed to the epimediums which are more beefy. I tend to use epimediums in the shade and columbine in more sunnier locations.

PM2, do you know the name of the white one you posted?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 9:12PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Sometimes they are fairly expensive, woody. Although I've added to my collection a few times at local nurseries that have carried the more common varieties for no more than a usual perennial price. I've also been lucky that a local spring plant sale that I try to attend every year, always has divisions of epimediums and I'll pick up a few more.

But by far the luckiest find for me has been in my own state, a hybridizer and collector of epimedium that I've bought from, Daryl Probst of Garden Vision. He has made trips to China to collect them. He has some rare finds but also some fairly inexpensive ones too. I stick to a budget and have a maximum I will spend for one. They do have some that are under $10. for a small plant, last time I ordered.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Epimedium Man

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 9:17PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

thyme2, yes, the white is called 'Bandit' and the pink is the common Epimedium x rubrum.

And I do grow columbine and really enjoy those too. Although mine reseed a lot and I often get leaf miners that have to be taken care of.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 9:22PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

and I often get leaf miners that have to be taken care of.

Does anyone have a columbine that *doesn't* have leaf miner?!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 9:40PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

woodyoak wrote: I like epimediums too but only have a few - because they seem to be hard to find and quite expensive around here.

Take a look at the Lost Horizons catalogue. There are approximately 50 offerings ranging from $9 to $48!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 6:19AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Another fan of epimediums here. I have about 20, all purchased from Darrell Probst, the Epimedium Man (though he has turned his epimediums over to someone else and has been breeding the new Galaxy series of Coreopsis). Some epimediums have the most gorgeous purple foliage when it first comes out, some have great flowers--all are great plants. I can't imagine a shade garden without lots of epimediums.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 6:35AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I only have one, Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum', mainly due to lack of space. It is totally evergreen and year round here and I suppose I consider it more of a sub shrub than a perennial. Columbines are lovely but the are essentially a self sowing free spirit and I just leave them to do their thing. Their foliage is also evergreen and year round here.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 8:46AM
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Campanula UK Z8

oh dear. if any of you have the collecting gene, beware epimediums - they are totally addictive (as bad as echinaceas or geums). True, they are surprisingly tough, given their apparent delicacy, and they are utterly reliable to grow underneath trees and shrubs but there are many, many desirable plants (and my eldest son and I have aquired many of these). They make decent divisable clumps (we split them every 3rd year) and the flowers are delicious - I love niveum, lilafee and frohnleit. I expect they are going to be hugely significant in our woods....although I have been quietly stocking up on aquilegias, especially the deep purple types (yabeana, thalictrifolia). Columbines are easy from seed and many more varieties are available (I feel a similar obsession may take root once we are fully established in shady trees).
Both are essential plants to grow in dappled woodland habitats.
Plantworld and Chiltern seeds have a good selection, far beyond the usual Songbirds, McKana hybrids et al.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 9:06AM
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rouge21_gw(5)

campanula and flora_uk, I thought I had read somewhere on-line that epimediums are more 'popular' in NAmerica than in Europe and so there is less selection across the pond. Maybe I am mistaken.

This post was edited by rouge21 on Sat, Mar 16, 13 at 9:42

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 9:28AM
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rouge21_gw(5)

aachenelf wrote: The flowers are lovely, but the foliage is the main attraction.

So do we consider that the foliage is good enough to 'compensate' for very early (and brief?) flowering? (I do see that your picture of 'rubrum' shown above has nice leaves).

Maybe this question isn't quite fair but would you still be attracted to this plant if it only grew in a sunny aspect?

This post was edited by rouge21 on Sat, Mar 16, 13 at 9:45

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 9:39AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

rouge21, when it is not in flower, it is a plain jane for the most part. If I didn't have a shade garden on my property, would I still grow it? Well, that is an interesting question. I might not think of growing it because there are SO many plants for full sun that I love, that I would probably have a different collection. BUT, even if you have no trees, you have the north side of a building, the north side of a fence, and other little niches, where a dependable shade plant would feel at home. It also helps if you pair it with something with a little more pop, like a Japanese Painted Fern.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 10:03AM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

Yes I would grow this plant no matter what. I think you really have to see an entire, established plant to appreciate the wonderfullness (not a word, I know), but sadly to say, I don't have a photo. Not only are the leaves lovely, but they have such a nice mounding habit with all the leaves arranged just perfectly to make them even more appealing.

They are also so deceptive looking. If I didn't know anything about them, I would assume they needed a perfect spot, with perfect soil and constant moisture or they would die promptly. They're just so blasted delicate looking and they stay that way for most the season! But as others have said, tough as nails is an understatement.

Kevin

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 10:18AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

Maybe I don't have enough of them to appreciate them properly.... :-) The ones I have are nice but they are not high on my list of must-have shade plants. I certainly wouldn't pay $48 at Lost Horizons for one!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 11:55AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

rouge21 - I don't know what you have available over there but we have a good few to choose from. There's a nice selection at the link. The prices don't seem that high. I just don't have any space for anything more.

Here is a link that might be useful: Epimediums

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 12:51PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

The foliage isn't all that interesting after bloom to me either. Although the spring foliage is often awesome- some have dark purple coloration, reddish mottling or margin to leaf edges, some have speckles/splotches of color (think spattered paint). I linked below to an awesome site- the guy must have 100 or more Epimedium!!

Not sure the question was directed at me but... while I think Epis look like they belong more in a shady area, I would be THRILLED if some "did" sun, since I have more such areas open than I do useable shady spaces.

What Kevin said. They look delicate and foo-foo, but they are so tough! So Doug, have we all convinced you that you are in terrible need of an Epimedium (or two) now?? ;-D
CMK

Here is a link that might be useful: John Jearrard's Herbal

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 2:41PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

have we all convinced you that you are in terrible need of an Epimedium (or two) now??

As is often mentioned on GW..."you are all enablers"!

But you are correct CMK, I think I gotta find room for 2 epimediums (at least as an experiment). It does seem like a good fit for my drier shade garden.

But I want to also find space for a couple of "Goat's Beard" plants as well as so many of you have convinced me of their value in a shade.

So many plants, too little space...sigh.

This post was edited by rouge21 on Sat, Mar 16, 13 at 17:08

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 4:58PM
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Patty W. zone 5a Illinois

You guys are a wealth of information I must stop reading now as I'm developing an irresistible urge to buy my first epimedium.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 6:21PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

Hey, I am unable to resist the powerful enabling and yet you are as cool as a cucumber 'patty'...impressive.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 7:22PM
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SunnyBorders(5A)

Lot of good information above.

What strikes me most of all about our epimediums is how hardy, reliable and undemanding perennials they are.

The flowers are not as attractive as those of columbines, but epimediums are far more long-lived than columbines.

As above, they never look ratty through the growing season and they're very easy to chop up and move with a spade.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 11:18AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

PM2, thanks for the info. I'll have to keep an eye out for that one. I've been wanting to visit the epimedium nursery in MA and maybe this spring I'll finally make it there.

Sunnyborders, you bring up a very good point. Epimediums are much longer lived than columbine, but since columbine seed readily that makes up for it. But, I can always count on my ipimedium coming back year after year in the same spot. Very reliable.

What I find interesting about epimediums (at least up here) is that they do die back and in the early, early spring look ratty, but then as if overnight they are an incredibly lush plant with beeautiful blooms! It amazes me each spring how quickly they turn into the jewels that they are.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 2:57PM
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redguelph(5a)

Wow - until 10 minutes ago I had never heard of epimediums. I had posted on the perennials forum for some ideas for under my oak tree and these were mentioned more than once. I have read all of the above posts and they sound perfect, seeing the picture was a definite plus. The one in the pic looks beautiful.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 6:53PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

redguelph, if you do live in/near Guelph then you have easy access to one of the best sources of epimediums in the province i.e. "Lost Horizons" in nearby Acton.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 12:16AM
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rouge21_gw(5)

UPDATE:

So this past weekend I got carried away and bought my bday and Christmas present all in one with the purchase of these epimediums:

- Amber Queen
- Beni Yushima
- lishihchenii
- rubrum
- Cherry Hearts
- Domino (aka Fairy Wings?)
- Lilafee

Thanks for all who contributed to this thread. You guys and girls are A1 enablers!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 6:58AM
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jayco(5b NY)

I love epimediums! I was lucky enough to snag one at a plant swap and it's been a sweet love affair ever since. Kevin described it well. The foliage is lively and the entire plant looks charming and unique. I so want many more. Please post pictures of yours.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 8:04AM
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wieslaw59

I have been an avid collector of Epimediums, until I discovered the brutal truth: except for 4-or 5 common types, they just do not perform. They have a hard time to establish in less than perfect place, and are less hardy than usually described. They are not plants you just throw into the soil and forget. Your nursing gene must be well developed to have more rare types. In German trials they have kicked nearly all varieties of E. grandiflorum to the curb.

Here is a link that might be useful: German trials

This post was edited by wieslaw59 on Mon, Jun 10, 13 at 12:59

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 12:28PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

That is interesting wieslaw as these dainty looking plants have an (undeserved?) reputation as being so very tough. It is one of the few plants that is said to be able to do its "stuff" in dry shade.

I bet it isn't easy to find a website that says otherwise.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 1:01PM
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wieslaw59

Rouge, their reputation is built around a few work horses. All the rest is beautiful on pictures , but rather demanding plants and blooming seldom . I updated my previous comment with the links to the trials. German trials are usually very reliable.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 1:08PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

Thanks 'wieslaw' for that link. There clearly are many many epimediums as none (or maybe one) of my recent purchases are listed on that site. (Or maybe they go by different names).

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 2:57PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

All 20 of the epimediums I have perform beautifully in my dry, sandy shade. None are foo foo for me.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 6:13AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I have 21 varieties of epimedium and have found them to be the most bulletproof plants in my garden. I've never done more than dig a hole and plant them in it and forget about them. I don't fertilize or water other than when the rest of a border gets watered during drought. I've never lost one over the winter. I've never seen any insect damage on them ever. I've never seen a diseased leaf on one of them. They grow in my toughest locations, at the base of Maple trees and in the darkest corners. I have loamy clay soil.

A few years ago, I divided a few of them and potted them and I missed one of the pots when I was replanting. It was hidden out of sight and I didn't discover it until the fall. It had been a very dry summer and I had not watered it once. It appeared completely dead, so I just threw it on the compost pile and the next year, it started growing in the compost pile and I rescued it and still have it. A plant that really makes me happy.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 6:46AM
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rouge21_gw(5)

Thanks 'lacey' and 'prairie' for those votes of confidence.

Given that each of you have so many in your garden might you be able to tell us some of your faves?

('prairie' that picture of "Bandit" is so pretty...clearly a unique plant in the early spring)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 7:54AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi rouge21, the 'Bandit' is very pretty and petite. It doesn't get very large. Stays in a clump. One of my favorites. Epimedium versicolor 'Sulphureum', Epimedium warleyense, and Epimedium 'Thunderbolt' are favorites too. 'Purple Prince' is another.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 12:03PM
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rouge21_gw(5)

UPDATE:

So this is the first spring in our garden with flowering epimediums planted last summer

I quickly snapped a picture this morning of the most vigorous one. Even in this crazy cold and snowy winter it was evergreen. I think it might be lishihchenii.

Thanks again for the advice found in this thread.

How about posting some pictures of your "eppys"?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 7:14AM
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shadeyplace(7)

This is a very large leaved one I got from asiatica before it closed. cannot find tag! I love them and they only look bad in very late winter (as with other things!). Sometimes I cut back old foliage and sometimes I just leave it to be covered with these gorgeous new leaves. the new leaves are spectacular (on all). Columbines I consider so different as to not even compare the two.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 9:07AM
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a2gemini

Hi all
I am a regular on kitchens. I have a plant in my garden and my neighbor asked what is it? I am pretty sure it is an epimedium. It lives in the shade in clay soil. Mine has elongated leaves and delicate light pink flowers.
I am so excited to read more about this plant.
So glad I found this post!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 8:10PM
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