Red act, Actaea rubra: plant, cultivate, multiply

Actaea rubra is an amazing, rather rare perennial, not difficult but a little slow to grow. Once properly installed, its magnificent berries shine above a pleasant covering foliage.

Red acts, Actaea rubra


Scientific N. Actaea rubra

Synonyms Actaea alba, Actaea arguta, Actaea aspleniifolia, Actaea californica, Actaea caudata, Christophoriana rubra

Origin North America

Flowering may June

Flowers yellow

Typeornamental herbaceous plant


Foliage lapsed

Height30 60cm

Toxicityall parts are toxic

Plant and cultivate

Hardiness very rustic, up to -30C

Exposition shallow shadows mi-shadows

Solhumifre sun

Acidity neutral acid

Humidity for fresh moist soil

Usemassive, undergrowth, low hedges, edge

Plantationspring fall



Actaea rubra, red cohosh, is a plants lively herbaceous belonging to the family Ranunculaceae, a genre therefore related to anemones and clematis, but above all closely related to the genus Cimicifuga, the silver candles. Actaea rubra is originally from North America. This species inhabits coniferous or deciduous forests, edges, edges of watercourses.

Fairly tolerant, red cohosh is also a remarkable garden plant for light shade or partial shade, which sets in over time. It offers a beautiful ground cover, surprising when its shiny fruits are colored.

Description of red cohosh

Actaea rubra is a rhizomatous hemicryptophytic plant, that is to say therefore the aerial parts die in winter, of slow growth. Its erect stems bear a few large leaves divided then cut into irregular leaflets and toothed bright green or sometimes slightly bluish, glabrous to hairy depending on the individual. This foliage looks a bit like that des astilbes. The plant widens by producing multiple stems as a ground cover, high from 30 to 50 cm.

The floral stems dominate the leaves. The flowers grouped together in a short, almost globular spike, have a tiny perianth, but long cream stamens: theinflorescence looks like a little pompom.

The inflorescence of red cohosh blooms between May and June, fertilized by insects, it turns into a cluster of fleshy fruits in July / August. These ovoid berries of about 1 cm are very attractive, for our visual pleasure as well as for the small local fauna which feed on them. The berries take on a vibrant shiny red color (or pearly white for the other form) and persist for quite a long time.

All parts ofActaea rubra are toxic, however, even though the berries are a very attractive red, they are so bitter that the chance that a child will absorb enough to get sick is really low.

Varieties of red cohosh

  • Actaea rubra f. ignored is a natural form with very white fruits, just as fascinating as the one with red fruits.
  • Actaea arguta is the westernmost geographic variant (in North America) of Actaea rubra : hairier, with more indented leaves, and smaller berries.

How to grow and use red cohosh?


Actaea rubra prefer them acidic to neutral soils and an earth that is humus, with better results when it is very rich. Which ultimately corresponds to the forest floor. In your garden you can enrich your soil with compost or potting soil.


The red cohosh is quite tolerant here, she support full shade if it is not too deep, the mi-shadows, and even full sun as long as you don’t run out of water or you are part of a temperate climate zone that is quite cool or rainy. Let us not forget that it is a circumboreal plant, of high latitude and very rustic. When it gets too much sun, its leaves turn white. What she prefers is partial shade with sun in the morning. Sunshine for half the day allows it to flower more abundantly, and therefore also to bear fruit more.

Soil moisture

Red cohosh loves a normal soil to cool, but the more sunlight it receives, the more humid the earth will have to be. If it lacks water its leaves turn yellow and roast on the edges.


The very beautiful Red Cohosh is a sensitive plant from roots, she doesn’t like to be disturbed. The transplantation should therefore be done gently without dismantling the motte out of the pot, as much as possible. In addition, it takes a long time to settle and takes more than 4 years to achieve the best of itself. It is therefore installed to last, especially as the more it widens, the more impressive it is.

She will installed in the garden from March to April, either in late summer and autumn.

A potted plant transplanted into a bed after April should be watered weekly with rainwater and mulched.


As this plant is slow to settle and multiply, it may be interesting to boost it with a contribution of compost in surfacing every fall.


Red cohosh is a ideal plant for the undergrowth, on the edge of a shrub or wooded area, against a wall. It produces a pleasant covering foliage, its new shoots emerge early in the very beginning of spring. It shows pleasant and fragrant flowers, but not necessarily abundant, and above all very ornamental shiny fruits.

Actaea rubra tends to inhibit the growth of other plants around it. It can therefore be easily cultivated as a single-species spot, which makes it an interesting, reliable and low-maintenance plant.

Nevertheless, it can be staged with a neighbor des hostas, heucheres, fernsyellow poppies, from Hakonechloa golden, of the seals of Solomon

Medicinal use

As usual Actea rubra is, at the same time toxic with action on the heart, and medicinal. It should therefore be used with caution.

The American Indians used it in their pharmacopoeia as pain reliever and antirheumatic, the root tea is also considered as an appetizer, to treat stomach aches or soothe coughs.

How to multiply red cohosh?


Like the disruption of rhizomes and roots is poorly tolerated, the divisions are not recommendedunless you have very large plants. The divisions will then be taken with a spade by cutting a part of the stump on the periphery with several growth buds, but without uprooting the rest of the plant which is held in place.


Although this plant is slow to grow, the seedlings is the best way to get them in numbers. Seeds germinate much better when sown fresh, around September / October.

The fruits are soaked and the seeds are carefully cleaned of their pulp which is inhibitory for germination.

They are sown under 2 cm of soil, the pot bagged and left outside so that these seeds undergo their cold stratification. They will germinate in the spring. Young plants should not hang out too long in a pot, they will develop better if they are quickly installed in the ground.

Species and varieties of Actaea

The genus has a hundred perennial species

  • Actaea pachypoda, red ears and white fruits
  • Actaea erythrocarpa
  • Actaea spicata, the European species with black fruits
Plants of the same genus

Source: Au Jardin, conseils en jardinage by

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