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Spirtual Common Sense Real Talk

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Black bugbane (aka black cohosh) grows to impressive heights (2 meters), especially when growing in neutral, moist soils in semi-shade. It produces drooping wands of tiny white flowers in early to mid-summer. Some populations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine may have been introduced as escapes from gardens. Formerly placed in the genus Cimicifuga, this species is now in the genus Actaea, along with doll's-eyes (A. pachypoda) and red baneberry (A. rubra).


American bugbane is primarily endangered by development of its habitat, but populations have also suffered from harvesting pressure. Although mountain bugbane is not particularly valuable in itself, its similar-looking relative, black bugbane, is a highly sought-after medicinal herb. Between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds of black bugbane were collected from the wild for sale in 1999, and some of this was almost certainly mountain bugbane.

Much is still unknown about where American bugbane grows and how secure its existing populations are. Information about how often it is collected with black bugbane would greatly aid conservation efforts. Given present information, habitat conservation is what this species needs most.

Height up to 2 m. Plants feature large compound leaves and numerous (50 to 900), tiny white flowers clustered on branched bottlebrush-like flower spikes (racemes). The alternate leaves are divided into threes, with 9-17 lobed leaflets, each up to 18 cm long. The flowers of tall bugbane lack petals and instead attract pollinators with numerous showy white stamens. Each flower is surrounded by five tiny sepals. Unlike other members of the genus Actaea, fruits are green pod-like structures (up to 1 cm long) that remain on the plant long after flowering and split open in fall or winter to release about a dozen reddish-brown seeds.

That famous ocean fog blesses the Bay Area's coastal gardeners with Sunset Zone 17's mild, rainy winters and cool summers. In central Napa County, however, Sunset Zone 7's hot, sunny summers give way to winters often touched with frost. One of the few showy perennials capable of beautifying landscapes in either area is Black Negligee bugbane (Actaea simplex Black Negligee). Its spreading clump of fernlike, deep-purple foliage and grape-scented white bottlebrush flower spikes stands an imposing 5 feet high in full autumn bloom. For a dramatic effect, plant Black Negligee behind smaller, chartreuse- or golden-leaved hostas.

Transplant your bugbane on a cool, overcast day in spring to minimize stress and allow time for its roots to establish by autumn. Dig a hole two to three times the width of and the same depth as its root ball.

Water frequently enough to prevent the soil from drying out. Inland plants need more water than coastal ones. Dried-out leaf tips and margins that turn yellow or brown could mean that your Black Negligee bugbane is dehydrated. A 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch conserves soil moisture and lowers your irrigation bills.

Bugbane attracts butterflies and is a deer-resistant and rabbit resistant plant that prefers a moist, fertile environment, and when planted in the proper soil is a trouble-free woodland garden plant. The fragrant flowers may also be cut and used in a vase. Try pairing bugbane with other woodland perennials such as phlox, boehmeria, angelica, and some of the taller fern species. When you are ready to buy cimicifuga for your perennial garden, check out our list of bugbanes for sale. 041b061a72


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