Bugbane: A plant with stamina

Judith Adam

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Bugbane (Actaea racemosa) put on best show in 20 years. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

After six weeks of challenging heat and heavy rain, I’m studying what plants prospered despite the environmental assault. I’d have to say the bugbanes, or snakeroots, have done surprisingly well. The simple black snakeroot (Actaea racemosa, Zone 4) stood the tallest, with wands of white flowers extending high above its attractive ferny foliage. My two clumps have been in the garden for 20 years, and this has certainly been their best show.

Two of the dark foliage Kamchatka bugbanes, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ (A. simplex Atropurpurea Group ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Zone 4) and ‘James Compton’ (A. s. Atropurpurea Group ‘James Compton’, Zone 4), also did well, though they’re both second tier in my affections. These dark cultivars are all about the dramatic foliage and less about the flowers.

For my money, the most valuable of the bugbanes is A. simplex ‘The Pearl’ (Zone 4), simply because it blooms in October. The creamy white flowers are deeply honey scented, and always catch the attention of late bees, desperate for a meal in the final days of autumn. To get the best from ‘The Pearl’, plant it in full sun. It needs the sun’s warmth to reach full flower display before frost shuts the garden down. There’s nothing like the honey scent of this plant greeting you on a morning when hoar frost coats the grass, and that will be sooner than we realize.

5 thoughts on “Bugbane: A plant with stamina”

  1. I have 6 different bugbanes in my back garden and love them all! They are terrific plants for dramatic impact with colour and form. They seem to be problem free from bugs .. hence “bug bane”? haha
    But yes .. true drought conditions can make them weepy … thankfully they come back from what seems the dead and look wonderful again. You are so right about the “Pearl” … it is a late summer stunner .. mine is HUGE ! and I can’t wait for those flowers!
    Joy : )

  2. Have a bugbane that I moved last summer and it is not doing well at all. It is in full sun but just isn’t growing well. Can you give me any suggestions?

    • I would check that the soil is “light” enough for it .. add compost and really keep it moist until you see a difference in it. Maybe a little too much sun is stressing it out? Mine have morning sun and much less intensity in the afternoon.


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