Actaea simplex

Common name: Bugbane

This plant / genus was previously known as Cimicifuga simplex and was reclassified to the genus Actaea simplex in the year 2000.

The genus name Actaea is from the Greek word 'Actaia' meaning ‘elder’.

The name was given because of the resemblance of the leaves and the berries of the elderbery tree.

The species name simplex means simply means; undivided or unbranched.

Elder shaped leaf

The common name Bugbane refers to the insect repellent properties of this genus.

Indeed, in some countries C. foetida is dried and stuffed into pillows and mattresses for this purpose.

This tall perennial flowers late in the season ( September-November) and is the ideal plant for the back of a damp shady border or woodland garden.

It has dark lacy foliage which creates a good backdrop to summer flowering plants.

Another attribute is that when the early flowering plants have finished Actaea comes into its own by producing tall spires of pinkish-white fragrant flowers above its dark foliage to create further interest later into the year.

When in flower the plants overall height is 100 to 150cm (40" to 60") of which 30 to 60cm (12" to 24") is the flower head.

In the border
Flower heads
Seed heads

Once flowering has finished the spent flowers can be left to form seed pods which will give winter interest, particulary when covered with hoar frost,and if need be one can collect some of the seeds to increase their stock.

Seed germination can be rather erratic so for best results they will require stratification to aid germination.

Basically all this means is that the seeds need to be subjected to a cold period.

To do this, place the seed packets in a fridge for two to three months to chill and stratify the seeds.

There are a couple of ways to sow the seeds and they are:

1) Sow the stratified seeds on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in pots or trays.

Do not cover the seeds as they need light to germinate.

Place the seeds in a propagator or on a hotbed set to give a temperature of around 21°C (70°F)

As mentioned germination can be quite erratic and you may find that they may germinate within a month but then again they may take a year.

If you find that they do not germinate with the first month do not be hasty to throw the container/s out, put them outdoors in a sheltered spot and leave them there until the following spring whereupon they may decide to germinate.

2) Sow in a nursery bed, or in trays covered with grit and leave outdoors, this will allow nature to provide the necessary temperature changes, but once again you may find that it may take up to a year for the seeds to germinate.

Once the seeds have germinated prick the seedlings out once they have produced their first pair of true leaves.

Pot them up into 7omm (3") pots of free draining potting compost and grow them on in frost free conditions until they are large enough to plant out in their final quarters in spring.

Note: It is best to gradually harden off the young plants for a couple of weeks prior to planting out.

Plants should be planted out around 60cm (24") apart in moist humus rich slightly acidic soil.

A partially shaded area is ideal as full sunlight can sometimes scorch the foliage.

During the dry summer months ensure that the plants do not dry out.

Generally plants do not require any support but in really exposed situations they might require staking.


Cut the plants back in late autumn after flowering

Large clumps can be divided in spring.

Top of the Page