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How to Grow Bugbane, Cimicifuga or Actaea

Updated on February 18, 2017

Bugbane, Cimicifuga or Actaea

Before we get into some tips on how to successfully grow what is commonly identified as bugbane, we'll get into a little recent history that has resulted in the Latin name of the plant changing, which has caused confusion to some.

While this has no effect on the popular bugbane name, it does on the official name, which had been cimicifuga but is now called actaea.

This came about from the discovery that the bugbane shares DNA with actaea, and from the year 2000 scientists sent out word the name of the plant from then on will be actaea instead of cimicifuga.

So when you order or buy a bugbane, it could be identified as either actaea or cimicifuga because nurseries selling the plant have been stubborn on adapting the name change coming from the taxonomists.

Just be aware and take into consideration that they're all the same plant, no matter what the particular nursery selling them calls the flower.

Bugbane Flower Photo


Shade-loving Perennial

One of the great benefits of incorporating a bugbane into your garden or landscaping scheme is they're fantastic for shady places you want to fill in.

They thrive especially well in the north, and are hardy to as low as minus 30 degrees. Add to that the fact the plant is a perennial, and you have a terrific plant to come back year after year.

Another strength of the plant is it usually won't bloom until the latter part of August, and sometimes they wait until September. Some varieties even bloom in October, making frost dates an important factor in your bugbane gardening plans.

Foliage and Flower Color

What's desirable and attractive about the bugbane is that it's foliage is just as nice looking as the flowers of the plant, although in a different manner.

The most widely used flower color is white, but varieties with pale pink and cream-colored flowers are also available.

As to the foliage, the popularity of the former brown or purple foliage has now decreased and gravitated towards black.

Another fantastic attribute in this regard, with some varieties, is the emergence of foliage dark green in color, which eventually changes to a beautiful olive-black color. This foliage looks great with or without the flowers, but when the flowers do appear, the spiked, feathery flowers looks awesome against the dark foliage foundation.

Bugbane varieties can grow from about 3 feet tall all the way up to 7 feet tall.

Where to Grow Bugbane

Bugbane loves shade, and that's almost all a gardener needs to know as to where to plant the flower. Full shade is best, but it'll tolerate partial shade.

This is because bugbane thrives in cool weather, which the shade provides them.

Dry areas of the yard should also be avoided, as the flower prefers a more moist area to grow in; also provided by a shadier areas. That doesn't mean it shouldn't have good drainage, as it should. Just be aware it prefers damp soil to dry soil for best results.

They can be grown in the sun, but they won't do as well, and you'll have to water them much more than those in the shade, with results that aren't as good.

An acidic soil is also preferred by the plant. If the growth is stunted, you may want to get a soil sample checked to determine the acidity of your soil.

Flowers for Shade Gardens: Cimicifuga Flowers for Shade Gardens

When to Sow Bugbane

To get best results when planting bugbane seed, they'll need to be stratified.

To accomplish this you can sow the seeds in the fall, sowing them approximately a 1/4" deep and up to 2" apart. You could also place them for three months in your refrigerator as an alternative method.

One studyhas shown that the germination rate for taller bugbane was far superior when a combination of warm and cold stratification was employed.

In that case the seeds were placed in warm stratification (15°C/25°C) for 2 weeks followed by cold stratification (5°C) for 3 months. From there those seeds placed in alternating warm temperatures (15°C/25°C) germinated at a rate of 96 percent.

Many times bugbane seed won't germinate until the second season, meaning you will have to mulch them to manage the bed.

How to Sow Bugbane

Depending on the variety, you'll want to sow your bugbane from two feet to four feet apart, and maybe a little more for some varieties.

That's different than the seeding distance mentioned above because that was for germination purposes, not planting in the garden.

In order to get great results from your bugbane, they will respond better if they have more room, and do best when left alone for several years, as far as division goes.

Bugbane Care

As just mentioned, if you're going to divide your bugbane, you should wait at least three years before doing so. Even then it's not often you will have to divide the plant.

If you attempt to propagate through division, it's hard because of the interlocking root system. Plant about 3" deep and the required spacing for the specific variety if you choose to go this route.

It's best to prune this plant in the spring because it looks so nice throughout the winter. Cut it back close to the ground at that time.

As for disease and insect problems there are almost negligible, and unless something unusual happens, won't be an issue.

Bugbane, Cimicifuga or Actaea

Bugbane is a wonderful choice for those wanting to spice up a shady area of the garden and have color right up to winter. They also look great throughout the winter.

Add to that the spiked, fluffy blooms of flowers in white, pink or cream during the latter part of summer and fall, and you can see why this is such a great choice for gardeners wanting something different and colorful in the late season for their gardens.

Little creatures like bees, hummingbirds and butterflies also love these flowers, and you'll get some great views of them hovering around and drinking of them.

Finally, the growing popularity of black gardens lend themselves well to this flower, as its deep, dark foliage and accompanying light, bright blooms make this a favorite.

Now one has to ask how all these compelling virtues end up with a name like 'bugbane.'


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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      8 years ago from United States

      Sounds like a good plant for the back of a shady flowerbed. Thanks for the info. Will have to look for this plant in the spring!


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