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Epimedium flavum (barrenwort)

Epimedium flavum is a herbaceous perennial with upright stems and bright yellow flowers, produced mainly in spring.
Yellow flowers of Epimedium flavum

Yellow flowers of Epimedium flavum

Species information

Scientific name: 

Epimedium flavum Stearn

Common name: 

barrenwort, tian quan yin yang huo (China)

Conservation status: 

Vulnerable (VU) according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Montane woodland.

Key Uses: 


Known hazards: 

None known.


Genus: Epimedium

About this species

More species of Epimedium grow in China at elevations between 500 m and 3,700 m in the woodlands of Sichuan Province in than in any other region. One of these, Epimedium flavum was first collected there in 1992 and named in 1995 by the British botanist William Stearn. Two other yellow-flowered species from the same area are similar: E. davidii (with smaller, red inner sepals, usually larger leaves and compact rhizome) and E. fangii (pale reddish inner sepals and creeping rhizomes).

William Stearn named Epimedium flavum and many other species of Epimedium and wrote the monograph, The Genus Epimedium and other Herbaceous Berberidaceae, published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 2002.


Discover more

Epimedium flavum

Geography and distribution

Epimedium flavum is found in Sichuan Province (Tianquan Xian, on the eastern side of Erlang Shan), central China, at elevations of 1,800–2,000 m.


Overview: Epimedium flavum has a compact rhizome and forms dense clumps, reaching up to 30 cm tall.

Leaves: The leaves have five (sometimes three) leaflets. The leaflets are heart-shaped, rounded and have sharp teeth around the margin.

Flowers: It has 3–10 sulphur-yellow, long-spurred flowers on upright stems. The flowers are around 3 cm across and have four inner sepals 11 mm long with rounded petals and slightly curved, spreading spurs.

Threats and conservation

Epimedium flavum is included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (VU D2). Species listed as VU D2 face a high risk of extinction because of their limited distribution (ie restricted area of occurrence or small number of locations) and are vulnerable to the effects of human activities or random disasters. They may therefore become Critically Endangered or even Extinct in the short term.

Epimedium flavum illustrated by Christabel King (1995) from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (© Christabel King).


Epimedium flavum is grown as an ornamental.

This species at Kew

Epimedium flavum is growing in the Woodland Garden.

Pressed and dried, and alcohol-preserved specimens of Epimedium flavum are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world by appointment. The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants.

Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

References and credits

China Plant Specialist Group (2004). Epimedium flavum. In: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1, IUCN 2011. Available online (accessed 13 September 2011).

Stearn, W. T. (1995). New Chinese taxa of Epimedium (Berberidaceae) from Sichuan. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 12: 15-25.

Stearn, W. T. (2002). The Genus Epimedium: and other Herbaceous Berberidaceae. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Plant List (2010). Epimedium flavum. Available online (accessed 13 September 2011).

Ying Junsheng, Boufford, D. E. & Brach, A. R. (2011). Epimedium. In: Flora of China. Vol. 19, eds Wu Zhengyi, Raven, P. H. & Hong Deyuan. Science Press, Beijing & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St Louis. Available online (accessed 13 September 2011).

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Copyediting: Malin Rivers

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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