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~ The Red Baneberry, Actaea rubra ~

Actaea rubra is a native North American herbaceous perennials that brightens the shady understory of moist, rich woods with its bright red or pure white berries that persist from mid-summer to autumn, following a June display of spiky, fluffy white flower clusters that smell of roses. It is a showpiece for the mid to late summer woodland gardens as well areas that are too shady to accomodate other plants, where it provides a spectacular alternative or companions to hostas.

The plant reaches a height of 1m. It prefers light shade, but will tolerate deep shade.

Though rarely abundant, the Red Baneberry (a.k.a. Cohosh, Red Cohosh, Necklaceweed, Snakeberry) grows from Virginia California, north to Alaska, and through most of the Southern Canadian shield.

All parts of the plants are poisonous to humans and should not be eaten, especially the roots and the attractive berries. The plant's active ingredients are violently purgative, irritant and emetic, and symptoms include stomach cramps, headache, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea and circulatory failure. Intesrestingly, many small critters such as deer mice, white-footed mice, red squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and redbacked voles rub off the poisonous pulp to feed on the seeds, and birds are wholly unaffected by the poison.


Click on photos on the left to enlarge.

The Red Baneberry is reliably hardy to zone 4.

Site, Soil and Habit
In the wild, the Red Baneberry grows in the understory of Sugar Maples, Red and White Pines, and mixed thickets at the edges of woods. It's not fussy on specifics, but it does like a fertile, organic substrate in a cool, shaded location.

The agent or mechanism is unknown, but Red Baneberry is reputed to inhibit the growth of its immediate neighbours, especially legumes.

Primarily by seed. Each berry contains about 10-15 brownish seeds.

Seeds are stripped of the fleshy coating then stratified in moist (notwet) peat in the refrigerator for approximately 115 days or direct-seeded in a mulched seed bed the fall for spring germination. Germination can take up to two years.

Mature plants can be divided in spring or fall.

Red Baneberry Links

New England Wild Flower Society - Sells seeds of the white and red fruited forms.
Hortico - Canadian mail order source for live plants.
Chiltern Seeds - UK seed supplier.
Sheffield Seeds - USA seed supplier, ships to Canada.

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