ACTAEA ELATA (syn. Cimicifuga elata): Tall bugbane
This is another one of those taxonomy shape-shifters — for years called Cimicifuga, it is now being included under the genus Actaea. So be advised to look for this plant by either name. But by whichever name you find it, it is a lovely plant for the shade garden.
It is important to note however, that while not toxic to birds, the seeds (and possibly all parts of this plant) are highly toxic to mammals, including humans.
Native only to British Columbia south through western Oregon, it is considered rare and endangered in the wild; not because it isn’t commonly found (which is the usual indicator, sizable communities but in only a few locations), but because the number of individual plants in the many places it can be found is very small, sometimes less than twenty-five in number. It has only been through careful propagation that they are now available for sale.
Planting this woodland beauty in your garden, then, is an act of helping to restore and repopulate this important native plant. It is attractive as both a pollen and food source to more than one species of butterfly, and attracts bees and other beneficial insects.
Its common name of Bugbane comes from both its attribute of being virtually pest-free, as well as useful as a bug-repellent.
It is similar to Actaea rubra (Red baneberry) and Trautvetteria caroliniensis (False bugbane), but showier than both: lush mound of toothed, maple-like leaves is topped by wands of fragrant, delicately-frothy flower spikes of white to barely pink that can reach as tall as six feet.
Blooming typically late June into August, they are magnets to bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and make a graceful presence in shady spots or woodland gardens. This plant requires little; give it humus-rich soil and ample water, and it will be happy.
True to its name, bugbane is virtually disease- and pest-free, and if left undisturbed, will self-seed and over time create a striking display in the latter part of the summer, when the spring flowers have long-since faded and disappeared.
FACTS: ACTAEA (CIMICIFUGA)
Genus: Actaea / Cimicifuga
Common Name: Bugbane
Native Range: Southern British Columbia through western Oregon, usually at low to medium elevation (uncommon)
Characteristics: Tall, graceful mound of foliage with toothed leaves similar to Japanese maple. Flowering stems with bottlebrush clusters of small white to pinkish, fragrant flowers grow above foliage in mid-to late-summer, reaching up to 6’ in height. Flowers are followed by flat seed pods that are highly toxic to mammals, including humans.
Culture: Grows best in part sun / shade, humus-rich soil and regular water. Best sited in a dappled-sun, moist area of the garden.
Pests and Diseases: Generally not bothered by pests or disease.