Cimicifuga (Actaea) 'Chocoholic' 

chocoholic bugbane    Perennial of the Month-- February 2014 Perry caricature

 (pronunciation at link)  (si-mi-si-fue' ga)

Common name:  Bugbane, black snakeroot, cohosh

Family:  Ranunculaceae, Buttercup

Height x width: 2-3ft x 2-3ft

Growth rate, habit: slow, upright

Foliage: ternately-divided (into 3s) leaves like astilbe, dark purple-bronze, basal arising from short rhizomes, 1-2.5ft long

Flowers:  white-pink fragrant bottlebrush spires (racemes) of flowers, one foot,  on stalks above leaves in late summer; black seeds follow in fall

Hardiness: USDA zones 4-8 (-20 to -30 degrees F winter minimum)

Soil:  moist, acidic preferred (as in woodlands)

Light:  shade to part shade zone 6 and warmer, same north or full sun north with sufficient moisture

Pests and problems:  none significant, leaves may scorch in drought

Landscape habit, uses:  woodland, back of border, native-style planting, butterflies; nice contrast with yellow foliage as of variegated meadowsweet, yellow flowers of ligularia, or white foliage of artemisias or variegated Solomon's seal or Japanese painted fern; good choice for late summer bloom, and a choice plant for accent or specimen

Other interest: when named by Linnaeus in 1750 the species foetidus was ground into powder and stuffed into mattresses and pillows to drive away (Latin fugo) bugs (Latin cimex); Cimicifuga genus is native but this cultivar was selected in 2008 in the Netherlands by Marco van Noort and A.H. Rijnbeek from seedlings of 'Brunette'; received an ISU perennial plant award in 2012 ; deer and rabbit resistant; another genus reclassified by botanists after gene studies, moving Cimicifuga into Actaea, although many catalogs still list it by the former, and the original naming by Linnaeus was in the latter; cohosh derives from the Algonquin word for rough, referring to the root texture; this plant is  with other purple-leaved cultivars in the species simplex (Atropurpurea group); shorter than similar purple-leaved cultivars; Cimicifuga has been used medicinally, mainly for female ailments, but used improperly herbally it can be harmful and may cause liver damage

Other culture:  performs best in cooler zones    

Propagation:  commercially by licensed propagators PPAF, home by spring division of older mature plants

Sources:  many online and local specialty nurseries

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