Actaea rubra or Baneberry is (in my humble opinion) one of the classiest plants in the shade garden. Not always easy to find – you may have to go online for it – it will stun garden visitors when the berries come out in mid-summer.
- Sun: Light part shade to shade (not dense shade)
- Bloom Color: Whitish flowers insignificant – grow for fall berries
- Bloom Time:You’re growing it for the late-summer berries which will stay on the plant for a surprisingly long time.
- Height:12-18 inches
- Width:18-24 inches depending on species, plant 18 inches apart
- Propagation:Division or seed (see notes)
- Growing Care Tips: this can be a hard plant to find and some folks have reported problems with establishment. Like a lot of things, it mostly depends on the soil. Get a rich (lots of organic matter) soil and this plant will thrive. Go with poor soils and drought conditions and it will struggle.
- Caution: The roots and berries are poisonous. Only a few berries are needed to produce negative symptoms. This is not a plant for a garden with children or dogs.
- Hardiness: USDA 4 with ease – into 3 with protection
- Lifespan: long term – over 5 years
- Best Soil: rich woodland is best
- Potential disease problems: none that can’t be outgrown
- Potential insect problems: no substantial
- Use: Woodland native, shade.
How To Grow
Grow this plant in rich, damp, woodland soils. Do not try growing it in dry shade or it will simply wither away.
It is a perfect plant for that dampish spot where few other things will live. Clay soils aren’t favorites because the plant requires high levels of organic matter to really thrive.
A deep mulch will be appreciated in warmer areas to help keep the soil cool and damp.
If you grow this plant in a boggy soil next to a pond, you will find it will tolerate more sunlight.
Divide this plant in the early spring for easiest and best results.
Sowing seed in the fall is a perfect way to get great germination rates. You do have to protect this rather large seed from rodents because they’ll quickly strip out a plant.
Remove seed from berries. Barely cover the seed, keep it moist (mimic its natural conditions). It may take two years to grow up into a moveable plant. I’d plant this directly into the garden or in a plunged pot (cut the bottom off a large pot and sink into the ground to “mark” and protect tender seedlings from invading neighbors). Trying to grow the plant in a small pot for 2 years is not a great idea.
Old seed (from seed houses) will not likely germinate. If you get it fresh in the fall from the seed house, you should be fine.
- A rubra (red baneberry) will grow to 80cm tall and is native to North America from Alaska all the way south to Mexico. Lovely red berries in the fall. (my favorite)
- A alba (white baneberry) pretty much looks like A. rubra except it has white berries in the fall and is native to the eastern part of North America
This plant is one of those “choice” little woodland gems that I believe belong in more shade gardens. They aren’t “showy” like some other plants but deserve a place in shadier gardens.