Actaea Racemosa Is an Exciting Shade Garden Plant

Actaea racemosa flower

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) flowers in late summer, adding color and vertical interest to the shade garden.

Virtues: Actaea racemosa is a must-have shade-garden plant because it blooms in mid- to late summer, lighting up the shade with its dramatic spikes of white flowers. It also attracts butterflies and it is typically not bothered by deer and rabbits.

Common name: Black cohosh, bugbane, fairy candles, black snakeroot

Botanical name: Actaea racemosa; synonym Cimicifuga racemosa

Exposure: Part to full shade

Season: Late summer for flowers; spring through fall for textural, lacy green foliage

Flowers: In mid- to late summer, Actaea racemosa blooms by sending up tall stalks that end in a thick, bottlebrush-like spike of fluffy white flowers. These are fragrant.

Foliage: The leaves are deep green, held in threes and deeply lobed.

Actaea racemosa

Actaea racemosa is a bushy perennial with a mound of foliage and tall spikes of flowers.

Habit: This herbaceous perennial can grow 4 to 6 feet tall and about 2 to 4 feet wide, giving a bushy impression. The flower stalks can increase its height to a total of 8 feet.

Origins: Native to woodlands of much of the eastern United States and Canada.

How to grow Actaea racemosa: This perennial can be slow to get established but then it is long-lived and relatively easy to maintain if it has been provided the right conditions. Site it in part to full shade, making sure there is protection from afternoon sun, which could scorch the leaves. Black cohosh requires rich, fairly moist soil and should not be allowed to dry out. USDA Zones 3–8.

Top image credit: Giorez / iStock / Getty Images
Bottom image credit: By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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