Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Giant Barrenworts

Epimedium sp. nov. Simple Beauty 011915 640

 

One of the welcome mysteries of the garden in Winter is how persistently evergreen barrenwort foliage is. It's not thick and leathery, and it's borne on thread-thin stems—and yet it can remain green most of the Winter. Two of my ever-expanding collection caught my eye today: 'Simple Beauty' and 'The Giant'. The enormous leaves above—and, believe me, six inches is positively titanic when you're an epimedium—surely suggest that this cultivar is 'The Giant'.

 

But, although this is possibly the largest foliage of any barrenwort, size isn't its most unusual feature. Epimedium leaves normally are composed of leaflets and, usually, in threes. Sometimes, each leaflet is subdivided into three: sub-leaflets, as it were. Below is a single leaf of Epimedium sp. 'The Giant'; at the right is its central leaflet, divided into three sub-leaflets. To the left is one of the side leaflets, also divided into three. (The right leaflet trio is missing.) 

 

Epimedium sp. The Giant 011916 640

 

Despite the remarkable size of its foliage, then, the gasp-worthy detail of 'Simple Beauty' is that there are no leaflets, only leaves. Each leaf is solitary. Here's the top picture again: It shows two separate leaves, not two leaflets.

 

Epimedium sp. nov. Simple Beauty 011915 640 

 

Leaves that are undivided into leafets are described as being simple, which finally makes some sense out of the name 'Simple Beauty'.

 

Note the full Latin: Epimedium sp. nov. 'Simple Beauty'. Sp. nov. is short for species novum, a species that is new and, so, hasn't yet been fully described. The cultivar name of 'Simple Beauty', then, is a bit of advance marketing: Sight unseen, who would buy any plant named just Epimedium sp. nov.? 'Simple Beauty' succeeds at conveying that this plant is pretty, and there's never a downside there. But the intended technical pun on simple, as in without leaflets, is likely to be waylaid by the word's more common look-down-your-nose meanings: elementary, unsophisticated, or not interesting for the smarties.

 

Back to Epimedium sp. 'The Giant'. It, too, is an as-yet unnamed "sp."—species—but its foliage is anything but huge.

 

Epimedium sp. The Giant 011916 640

 

Instead, its cultivar name refers to its floral performance. Epimediums produce their flowers in groups, on stalks that grow for only a limited period then mature a fixed number of buds into flowers. This pattern is described as being determinate. Typically, an epimedium flower stalk grows five to twenty inches tall and bears a few to a dozen or so blossoms.

 

Flower stalks of 'The Giant' are unique among epimediums in being indeterminate, which means that stalks keep on growing as long as the season is congenial, gaining in height as well as flowers. A single stalk of 'The Giant' has been reported to grow for three months, becoming four to five feet high and bearing nearly a thousand blossoms. 

 

As with 'Simple Beauty', 'The Giant' doesn't clearly convey the latter cultivar's true excitement. While epimedium flower stalks taller than fifth graders are giant, the word inevitably brings in the sense of being monolithic, strong, dense, or heavy. A giant sequoia? Now there's a plant worthy of the adjective.  

 

I planted my 'The Giant' just this past Spring, so I haven't yet had opportunity to be stunned firsthand into babbling superlatives by its floral performance. Judging from photographs, this epimedium produces a large cloud of small yellow flowers so numerous and arrayed on so many interlocking stems that the look is more of a swarm of tiny butterflies. Nothing is giant about it—but gorgeous, fabulous, WTF, "Honey-just-look-at-that"? Yes, indeed. 

 

Instead of 'The Giant', then, what about 'Florapalooza' or, at least, 'Butterfly Cloud'? And instead of 'Simple Beauty', what about 'Singular Beauty'? That gives up the technical pun on 'simple', but also sidesteps the pejorative puns that can be inferred from the word's common-usage meanings. Sounds like a good trade-off to me.

 

Alas, no one is going to rename either cultivar, which would only cause confusion. But epimediums are always happy to hybridize as well as to mutate spontaneously. With traits as startling as those of 'The Giant' and 'Simple Beauty', there will be more cultivars. Each will be a naming opportunity.

 

Here's how to grow Epimedium x warleyense. Its foliage stays green nearly as long as that of the two epimediums above. Its hardiness and handling are similar. 

 
 
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