Native Plants for Bees–Black Cohosh

Back when I bought this plant it was known as cimicifuga racemosa.   Its botanical has since been changed to actaea racemosa (not much better, but not quite such a mouthful) and its common names are Black Cohosh, Snakeroot and Bugbane.

It gets its last name from its rather distinctive odor.  Some folks won’t grow it because they think it’s too stinky.  The scent doesn’t really bother me, but on a warm day, the scent is distinctive so if you are considering this plant (particularly the true native, whose plumes can reach 6′) you may want to visit it in bloom to determine whether the scent bothers you before you plant it in the garden.

In bloom this plant looks like an overgrown white astilbe–and out of bloom, its foliage is astilbe-like as well.  But before bloom, as you can see from the above plume, the flowers are composed of little balls waiting to burst open–it’s an interesting effect.

Besides the bumble bee, the smaller bees like the sweat bees love this plant as well.  I’ve even seen those great steel blue cricket hunter wasps on them.  Interestingly enough, I haven’t seen a lot of those in the yard this year.  I don’t know if there’s been a crash in their population for some reason (a crash in the cricket population?) or if they’ve just found happier hunting grounds.

2 thoughts on “Native Plants for Bees–Black Cohosh

  1. planthoarder March 6, 2012 / 5:57 pm

    I like the smell of mine. Does the scent vary, or am I just odd?

  2. gardendaze March 6, 2012 / 7:04 pm

    So far as I know, the scent doesn’t vary. I think it’s sort of like paperwhite narcissus. Some folks like them and some folks think they smell like all sorts of ghastly things best left un-named. I happen to like paperwhites too, as I think I said. Maybe there are “super-smellers” just as there are “super-tasters.”

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