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Actaea, {Baneberry} and Actinidia. A-Z of plant genera. Part 6

Updated on October 10, 2015

Actaea pachypoda. The White Baneberry.



In this series ' A-Z ' of plant genera we review plant genera from around the world. This will include the wild species and their cultivated relatives. Here we commence with the genus Actaea. this is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the Buttercup family Ranunculaceae. They are native to the temperate regions of the Northern hemisphere.

The plants are referred to by the common name of Baneberry or Bugbane, of which there are about seven species. Some of them were/are included in the genus Cimicifuga.

A look at the species.

Actaea arizonica, as the specific name suggests, is endemic to parts of Arizona in the United States. It is a perennial, with a rhizome root-stock which throw up hairless stems to the height of one point five to two metres.

The foliage is composed of triple-lobed leaflets, roughly seven inches long and five inches wide. They are borne on stalks up to thirty five centimetres long { Fourteen inches.} The flowers are produced in July and August. They have five sepals ,three of which, are a cream colour and the other two are greenish. Sometimes they have white petals as well. They grow at an elevation of 5300-7000 feet above sea level.

the species is sometimes found under the genus name of Cimicifuga.

Actaea asiatica. this is a species of Baneberry distributed throughout Asia. The flowers vary in colour from grey to white,the succeeding berries are of a black-purple colour. the rhizomes of this species are black-brown with numerous fibrous roots. The stems are 30-80 cm tall {one and a half to two and a half feet}. They are generally without branches.,The foliage is grouped in two's or in three's. They are toothed at the margins.

They are often encountered in association with Maidenhead ferns in China where they are referred to as 'Chinese Baneberry'. The berries are poisonous.

White Baneberry


Actaea asiatica, flowers and foliage.

Taken in Japan
Taken in Japan | Source

Actaea pachypoda

Actaea pachypoda, is the White Baneberry, is a native of eastern North America. It is an herbaceous perennial attaining the height of one and a half to two feet tall with a spread of Three feet. The tiny white flowers appear in spring in short terminal clusters at the summit of long green stems that arise above the foliage.

The flowering stems thicken after the flowering period and turn to a pleasing red colour {see header image above} They support pea-sized white berries which develop during the summer in loose clusters. Each berry has a small ,but distinctive,dark purple spot, which gave rise to the common name of ''Doll's eyes'.. . In their natural state they are found in deep shade woods and north facing slopes and in ravines,especially in the eastern part of Missouri.

The cultivar Actaea pachypoda, syn, A.alba, is a compact clump-forming perennial,with spikes of small fluffy white flowers in summer and clusters of white berries borne on stiff fleshy,scarlet stalks in the autumn.They attain the height of three feet with a spread of around twenty inches. They prefer shade or will tolerate partial shade and they are frost hardy.

Being originally woodland species they prefer moist,peaty soil. They may be propagated by division of the roots.

Red Baneberry Actaea rubra.

Taken in Helksinki.
Taken in Helksinki. | Source

Berries of the red banebery


Red Baneberry is another cultivar

Red Baneberry , Actaea rubra, is another cultivar which is also clump-forming about twenty inches in height with a spread of about twenty inches. This perennial produces small fluffy white flowers which are followed in the autumn by clusters of rounded,scarlet berries and in common with all the members of this genus, the berries are poisonous. They are borne above the oval,divided, bright green leaves.

Actaea podocarpa. Flowers.

Taken at Cove forest, Great Smoky Mountains.
Taken at Cove forest, Great Smoky Mountains. | Source

Actaea podocarpa.

Actaea podocarpa, has many common names such as the ' Mountain Black cohosh,' and 'American bugbane'. It is a native species of the Appalachian mountains with an outlying population in Illinois. It is sometimes found under the scientific name of Cimicifuga americana.

The stems are from 60-250 cm long and they are plants of moist,rich boulder-strewn wooded slopes and coves from 300-2000 metres.

The cultivar species are perennials and they have pinnately divided leaves and slender branched racemes of pink,tinged white flowers,from late summer to early autumn. They are followed by brown follicles. The cultivars will need a moist,but well drained soil,or even poorly drained soil of clay or loam. They will grow in a sheltered aspect on east-facing,west-facing or north-facing localities.

The foliage is deciduous and they are clump-forming,taking tow to five years to reach maturity.

Actaea ramosa-flowers


Cimcifuga { Actaea} racemosa


Actaea racemosa

Actaea racemosa, is also referred to by the common names of, Black Cohosh, Black Bugbane, Black Snakeroot,and Fairy Candle. They are native to eastern North America from the extreme south of Ontario to Central Georgia, west to Missouri and Arkansas. They may be encountered in a variety of woodland habitat and woodland clearings.

It is a smooth herbaceous perennial with large compound leaves,and grows to the height of two feet or more. The stems arise from underground rhizomes. The basal foliage is up to three feet long and arranged in repeated sets of three leaflets. The margins are coarsely toothed. The flowers are white and have neither petals or sepals,but are composed of tight clusters of long stamens surrounding the white stigma. They are borne on tall stems up to ninety eight inches tall. The flowers have an unpleasant aroma. The fruit is a dry follicle,with one carpel containing many seeds.

The Cultivars---The cultivars are perennials one to five metres tall, with long branched,bottle brush-like racemes of small white flowers carried well above the bright green, divided foliage,and are succeeded by brown,dry follicles.

Like the previous species they like well drained,or even poorly drained moist soil of clay or loam, in partial shade with the aspect facing north,east, or west. They require watering well during hot dry weather. They can be propagated by seeds sown in pots in a cold frame in Autumn. Alternatively they can be increased by division in early spring. It is recommended {bearing in mind the aspect}, they are utilized in flower beds,Cottage and Informal wild flower meadows. The plants need to be cut back after flowering or fruiting. These plants are usually pest and disease free.

Actaea spicata, Illustration.


Actaea spicata.

Actaea spicata, is a native to Europe and western Asia,and is referred to as the Eurasian Baneberry, Herb Christopher or simply Baneberry. It is an herbaceous perennial up to two feet tall. The leaves are compound up to one and a half feet long {40 cm }. and a foot broad. { 30 cm}.

The flowers are white with petal like sepals that are borne on erect racemes about ten inches long. The fruit is a black berry {see image}. There are two varieties Actaea spicata var spicata {Europe and north western Asia}. Actaea spicata var ety acuminata,{ south western Asia.}.

Cultivars--Actaea spicata variety eryhrocarpa, ,has long been bred from the Eurasian species.

Actaea spicata berries


Female flowers


Fuzzy Kiwi fruits


The genus Actinidia.

The genus Actinidia, is a genus of woody plants native to the temperate eastern Asia,extending north to south east Siberia. and south to Indochina.The genus includes shrubs growing up to twenty feet tall,and vigorous ,strong growing vines up to ninety feet tall in tree canopies.

The leaves are arranged alternately and are simple,with long stalks and denated margins.The flowers are usually white with five small petals. Many of the genus have separate male and female plants. The fruit is a large berry containing numerous seeds.

I suppose the most familiar species is Actinidia deliciosa, the Fuzzy Kiwi Fruit. This is a fruiting vine native to southern China. The fruit has been declared the national fruit of China. It is a vigorous woody vine or climbing shrub attaining the length of nine metres or twenty eight feet. The leaves are alternately arranged,and are long stalked,oval or nearly circular and somewhat heart-shaped at the base.They are up to five inches long. The young foliage is coated with red hairs,mature leaves are dark green and hairless on the upper surface and downy white with light coloured veins beneath.

The flowers are fragrant,borne singly or in groups of three in the axils of the leaves. They have five to six petals, white changing to a buff yellow colour. Male and female flowers occur on different plants. The fruits are oblong over two inches long. The outer surface covered by short stiff brown hairs. The flesh is firm until fully ripened. The flavour is said to be somewhat similar to the Gooseberry or Strawberry.

The cultivar,Actinidia deliciosa, sometimes found under the name of Actinidia chinensis,is a vigorous ,mainly deciduous ,woody,twining climber, up to thirty feet long,and bears heart-shaped leaves five to eight inches long. In the summer it bears clusters of cup-shaped white flowers that later turn yellowish,followed by edible,hairy brown fruits. However, to obtain the fruits male and female plants must be grown in close proximity.

They prefer to grow in well drained soil,that does not dry out,in partial shade. They may be pruned in winter if necessary. They can be propagated by seed in the spring or autumn,or by semi-ripe cuttings in mid-summer, or by layering in Autumn. They are frost hardy.

Actinidia kolomikta flowers and leaves.


Actinidia kolomikta foliage


Actinidia kolomikta, flower of the cultivar


Actinidia kolomikta

Actinidia kolomikta, is a native to the temperate forests of the Korea,Japan, China and the far east of Russia. It is long lived woody scrambling vine up to thirty three feet tall and is the hardiest of the genus.

The cultivar is a climber with three to six inch long leaves,the upper surface often creamy white and pink. The flowers are small and white,cup shaped and appear during the summer. Again the male and female flowers occur on different plants and it grows to about twelve feet tall. The species prefers full sun and well drained soil.

Actinidia polygama, is the silver vine and is another popular cultivar with growers. It is another woody-stemmed,twining climber {up to twenty feet}, and is frost hardy. The foliage is heart-shaped three to five inches long,bronze when young and sometimes having creamy white upper sections.

In summer it produces scented, cup-shaped,white flowers,usually in groups of three they may be male,female or bisexual. These are followed by edible {but not very tasty}, egg shaped bright yellow fruits.

Fruit of Actinidia kolomikta


Flowers and leaves of Actinidia polygama

Taken in Japan
Taken in Japan | Source

Other species that have similar characteristics.

Actinidia auguata, a perennial native of Japan,Korea, northern China and Russian Siberia.

A.chrysantha, is endemic to China and is classed as a vulnerable species.

A.laevissima ,endemic to China and classed as a vulnerable species.

A.melanandra, the purple or red kiwi,is commercially grown kiwi fruit and is native to certain provinces in China.

A.pilosula , endemic to China and classed as a vulnerable species.

A.rudis, endemic to China and classed as a vulnerable species.

A.subrifolia, endemic to China and classed as a vulnerable species.

A.ulmifolia, endemic to China and classed as a vulnerable species.

A.vitifolia., endemic to China and classed as a vulnerable species.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb,

      We have only just touched the tip of the iceberg , so to speak, where the genera start with the letter A. I have heard of your 'Woodward Park' in Tulsa Oklahoma where the dogwoods feature. They have some great gardens such as the Anne Hathoway Herb Garden and the 'Linnaeus garden' within the park. Dogwoods will feature in the future. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It is amazing what is just in 'A.' If I could, I'd like to put in a request for the wild berries of Oklahoma and area, namely the rough leafed dogwood.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika, Thank you for your encouraging comments, appreciated as always. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Wow! A lovely presentation of the unique plants and fruit. You have worked hard to show the different plants here. The photos are beautiful.


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