Actaea racemosa (bugbane)

PLANT OF THE WEEK – Actaea racemosa (Prior: Cimicifuga racemosa)

Bugbane Black Negligee
I’ve grown ‘Black negligee’ and admit I got it originally because of the name. Now it’s one of my favorite plants. I love the fragrance and the way the branches wave around in the wind like sexy white boa scarves atop deep black/purple bases.

PLANT of the WEEK: Bugbane

Logo smallPlant of the Week” is part of a series of fact sheets I did for a horticulture class I took at Oregon State University on herbaceous perennials. I thought others might also be interested and we could have a discussion on our experiences with some of these plants. I’ve also started adding some of my favorite plants.

PLANT: Cimicifuga racemosa , syn. Actaea racemosa. Family: Ranunculaceae. Common name: Bugbane

H x W: SIZE 4–6 ft. (3 ft.) high; 2–4 ft. wide, zone: 3-8

CULTURE: Bugbane is native to eastern North America from the extreme south of Ontario to central Georgia, and west to Missouri and Arkansas.  Works well in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) in a lightly shaded area and root like to stay moist.

This woodland-edge native does best in fertile, moist, high-organic, acidic soil—with the emphasis on moist.  I have mine in the open Pacific Northwest sun… which wouldn’t be much in most places but this plant doesn’t even like that much sun!

FLOWERSc.racemosa-brunette2-235 portland nursery
The flowers are produced in late spring and early summer on a tall stem, 30–98 in tall, forming racemes up to 20 in long. The flowers have no petals or sepals, and consist of tight clusters of 55-110 white, 5–10 mm long stamens surrounding a white stigma. The flowers have a distinctly sweet, fetid smell that attracts flies, gnats, and beetles. The fruit is a dry follicle 5–10 mm long, with one carpel, containing several seeds.

In early spring, the white flowers appear in terminal racemes, and give way to 1/ 4″ long oval berries in late summer and early fall. The fruit is equally ornamental as the flowers, but they are eaten by varmints with tougher constitutions than ours. It is reported that only 6 berries of the plant can cause poisonous symptoms.

Avoid hot afternoon sun. Individual flower spikes may need support. Division is difficult due to the thong like roots, but it is rarely needed as clumps can remain undisturbed forever. If desired, divide carefully in the fall. Plants are slow growing.

The plant has its origin in the Latin words cimex, which denotes ‘bug’ and fugere meaning ‘to flee’ – expressing the properties of this plant in the form of an insect repellent.

The roots and rhizomes have long been used medicinally by Native Americans. Extracts from these plant materials are thought to possess analgesic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory properties. Today, extracts are being studied as effective treatments for symptoms associated with menopause.

Herbs 2000
DiSabato-Aust, Tracy (2006-07-24). The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting & Pruning Techniques
Armitage, Allan M. (2008-05-01). Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes (3rd Edition)

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