Shade loving, late flowering, rhizomatous perennials. Grown for their tall, erect, brush-like flower spikes and attractive berries.
Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup family).
Botanical Name: Actaea (a-tee-a) (Syn. Cimicifuga)
Common Names: Baneberry, bugbane, black cohosh, snakeroot.
Foliage: Deciduous, large basal leaves, formed of several separate leaflets.
Flowers: Dense spikes of small, fragrant white or cream flowers, usually followed by red, black or white berries.
Flowering Period: Late summer to early autumn.
Soil: Moist, poorly drained or well-drained, fertile soil (clay or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.
Conditions: Best in partial shade. Plant in a north, east or west facing aspect, in a sheltered position.
Habit: Bushy, upright.
Type: Rhizomatous herbaceous perennial.
Origin: Northern temperate zone.
Hardiness: Most varieties are fully hardy in the UK.
Toxicity: The berries are poisonous.
Plant from autumn to spring in a moisture-retentive, humus rich, fertile soil. Staking is seldom necessary. Best in part shade but full sun is tolerated in moist sites.
They need plenty of space, so they make an ideal perennial for the back of mixed borders, where they will provide a good foil for other plants.
Keep well watered in dry weather. Mulch around the stems in May. Provide support for tall varieties in windy and exposed sites.
Cut down to ground level once flowering and fruiting has finished in the autumn. The berries are poisonous so wear gloves when handling and wash hands afterwards.
Generally pest and disease free.
Divide established clumps in autumn or spring. Alternatively, sow seed in spring.
Actaea americana has large finely divided basal leaves. Creamy white late summer flowers on long spikes. Height to 6ft (2m), spread 2ft (60cm) or more.
Actaea foetida has divide leaves and branched spikes of white and pale yellow late summer flowers. The smell can be rather unpleasant. Height 5ft (l.5m), spread 18 to 24in (45-60cm).
Actaea racemosa var. cordifolia bears creamy-white flowers on long, erect spikes in August-September.
Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group) has divided leaves and branched stems. Pure white flowers on arching stems in autumn. One of the most decorative species. Height 4ft (1.2m), spread 18in (45cm) or more. For sale at Crocus. Cultivars include: 'White Pearl' with fine coppery leaves and 'Black Negligee' with attractively divided near-black foliage. Available from Van Meuwen.