The genus Cimicifuga has long suffered from a crisis of identity and has recently been transferred to the genus Actaea. Although this plant is popularly known, and still identified as Cimicifuga simplex it is now correctly called Actaea simplex.
This change dates from 2000 but is filtering through very slowly, most gardeners and even specialist nurseries are resisting the taxonomists' edict. So, whatever the RHS Plant Finder says, many are still labelled as Cimicifuga.
Actaea simplex, formerly Cimicifuga simplex is a spectacular plant for the back of a shady border. This dramatic, stately perennial is a very useful plant, both because it comes into its own late in the season, when many flowers have finished, and because it thrives in damp shade.
In early spring, while pastel coloured ephemerals dominate gardens around the city, Actaea are beginning to emerge from dormancy. By summer months, most gardens have reached their peak of bloom, while Actaea have filled in with lacy foliage in the background.
Actaea simplex is always the last to flower, often waiting until September and sometimes lasting well into November. Long, fluffy spires in pale pinkish-white, rise above the dark foliage on upright, wiry stems. They seem to float in mid-air, each flower studded with feathery stamens.
Actaea simplex 'Atropurpurea' is an exceptionally beautiful selection, valued for its large Astilbe-like leaves of purple black. Its dark hue makes a wonderful backdrop for colourful foliage and flowering shade plants.
They add architectural height and late summer bloom to a shaded part of the border or shade garden and are also effective in woodland gardens, cottage gardens, naturalistic gardens and naturalised areas. Stunning when grown in groups, although single plants have good specimen value once established.
The plants typically grow to a total height of 90 to 120cm (36 to 48in) and the small, numerous, fragrant flowers, grow to between 30 to 60cm (12 to 24in) long. The return of cool weather brings drying seed heads, their spiky outline still visible. Avoid removing the faded flower heads since they and the seed pods provide an interesting silhouette in the winter garden.
Sowing: Sow seeds immediately upon receipt.
The seeds of Actaea go into various stages of dormancy that can make germination very uneven. They must be exposed to a warm/cold/warm cycle before they will germinate. The easiest way to germinate is to sow in the ground, or in trays covered with grit and leave outdoors, allowing nature to provide the necessary temperature changes. Plant 5cm (2in) apart, approx 5mm (¼in) deep in shaded, prepared seedbeds.
Otherwise, sow the seeds on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in pots or trays. Do not cover the seeds, but tightly press into the compost as they need light to germinate. Water from the base of the tray and keep the compost moist but not wet at all times. To speed up the germination process and improve the germination rate, expose the seeds to warm temperature 22°C (70°F) for two weeks, followed by cold temperature 4°C (40°F) for three months.
Germination usually occurs in spring regardless of when they are sown and can take between 30 and 365 days.
Prick out seedlings sown in trays, once they have their first set of true leaves and transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots containing free-draining compost and grow them on in frost free conditions until large enough to plant outside. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out after all risk of frost has passed. Overwinter autumn sown plants in frost-free conditions before planting out the following spring. Plant 30 to 60cm apart.
Actaea plants requires little to no maintenance. It prefers a position slightly moist, cool, humus-rich, preferably acidic soil and light shade or alternating. Foliage tends to scorch and growth may slow down if soils are not consistently moist, so in hot, dry areas water the plants when needed in summer.
The plant generally does not need staking, but taller flower spires may need some support.
Actaea are hardy to minus 40°C (-40°F), the plants are extremely long lived, to around 25 years. They may be cut back in late autumn after flowering and fruiting. Large clumps may be divided in spring.
Perennial borders, Shade and Woodland gardens. Naturalistic gardens and Naturalised areas,
Actaeas thrive in the temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere. Some of the most desirable are descended from A. simplex (formerly Cimicifuga simplex), a plant found wild from Japan to eastern Russia. It was introduced into Britain in the latter half of the 19th century,
Plant-breeders soon noticed a tendency for A. simplex to produce dark-leaved seedlings. The first of these to appear commercially was bred by Ernest Ladhams in 1932. This purple-leaved form, known as 'Elstead' after the place in Surrey where he had his nursery, has mauve-pink buds that open into white flowers dotted with pink stamens. The dark leaved forms are collectively known as Actaea simplex Atropurpurea Group.
All plants in the genus Cimicifuga have recently been transferred to the genus Actaea. The man responsible for their classification, Dr James Compton and his team analysed morphological and genetic data and supported the combination of the genus concepts of Actaea, Cimicifuga, and Souliea, essentially reverting to Linnaeus’s 1753 concept of the genus Actaea. Previously, the major morphological basis for separating Cimicifuga from Actaea was fruit type. Actaea has a berry-like fruit and Cimicifuga has a dry follicle.
This change dates from 2000 but is filtering through very slowly - even specialist nurseries are resisting the taxonomists' edict. So, whatever the RHS Plant Finder says, bear in mind that many of the bugbanes on sale will still be labelled as Cimicifuga.
The genus name Actaea is from the Greek word Actaia, meaning ‘elder’. The name was given by Linnaeus because of the resemblance of the leaves and the berries to the elder.
The species name simplex means simple, undivided or unbranched.
This plant was formerly known as Cimicifuga simplex. Cimicifuga is taken from cimexfugo, meaning ‘to force to flee’ or 'to put to flight'. Bugbane is the English equivalent meaning 'the bane of a bugs life'. it refers to the insect repellent properties of this genus.
Both names derive from its reputation for being an insect repellent. Indeed, tops of the elder-scented Eurasian species C. foetida used to be dried and stuffed into pillows and mattresses for this purpose.
Common names include Fairy Candles, which applies to all species of Actaea.
The genus names are pronounced sim-ih-siff-YOU-guh, or if you are more up to date with these things, ack-TAY-yuh.
- Additional Information
Average Seed Count 25 seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Actaea Species simplex Cultivar Atropurpurea Group Synonym Actaea rubifolia Common Name Actaea simplex Atropurpurea Group Other Common Names Fairy Candles, Appalachian bugbane Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to minus 40°C (-40°F) Flowers Long racemes of chalky-white blooms Natural Flower Time August to October Height 120 to 150cm (4 to 5ft) Spacing 60cm (24in) Position Full sun or partial shade Soil Moist, fertile soil Time to Sow September to October