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Rare and Exceptional Plants for the
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Although you don't have to be a rocket scientist to
understand why the
common name for Actaea pachypoda is "Dolls
Eye's", you may wonder
about it's other moniker, "Baneberry". This
cautionary label speaks
to the poisonous nature of the fruits. Don't let that
scare you away from
growing one of the coolest woodland plants you'll ever find
and who knows how
many berries you would have to eat to get a belly ache or
I'm not sure where the genus name Actaea comes from, but pachypoda means "thick foot" referring to the stem that carries the fruits.
Here's a plant that will give bring you great joy 75% of the year and 100 % of your growing season. All you need is full to part shade, you know, that filtered sunlight kinda stuff, and average soil.
In the early Spring, the 12" to 24" dissected foliage is topped with airy, creamy white fragrant flowers http://www.sunfarm.com/images/lg/acteapachy podafl-l.jpg. These flowers are soon pollinated, and the berry building process begins. Slowly over the Spring and Summer they turn from a small yellowish - green to a brilliant white as they grow in size. The stem that the berries are supported on is called a pedicel and it turns a deep crimson red color. Each berry is tipped with a black dot in the center.
Propagation is by division and a mature plant can yield several in just a few years. Seed propagation is also an option, but you must have patience as it takes several years to produce a flowering size plant. I tried a simple experiment many years ago to settle a bet that the seeds were infertile. It seems that most people used to toss their seed pots if they didn't germinate in a year. There were six plants of Actaea pachypoda growing in Booth Hollow, just a stone's throw from my farm. I gathered the berries in late September and macerated the seeds out of the pulp in a colander under running water. Believe it or not, I came up with 288 clean seeds. This is quite a coincidence because it was my intention to sow them in a 288 cell flat. Anyway, I sowed them and placed the flat outside in the woods and waited. The following Spring, as other seeds were popping up everywhere around this flat, the Actaea flat had nothing!!!. I left the seed flat in place and the following Spring, 19 months later, there was 100% germination. You can save yourself a year by placing the seeds in moist vermiculite and putting them in the fridge for about 6 weeks, room temperature for six weeks and then back in the fridge for six weeks, then sow them. While this may sound like a pain in the butt, it's really effortless and a great timesaver. Life is so short and there are so many plants to grow.
Closely related is another favorite of mine, Actaea rubra, http://www.sunfarm.com/images/lg/actearubra -l.jpg . Actaea rubra is a species native to the Northern US that has similar characteristics with the exception of deep red berries in Autumn.
Just the facts M'am:
Kingdom - Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom - Tracheobionta - Vascular plants
Superdivision - Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division - Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class - Magnoliopsida - Dicotyledons
Subclass - Magnoliidae
Order - Ranunculales
Family - Ranunculaceae
Genus - Actaea
Species - pachypoda
Common name - genus - "Baneberry"
Common name - species - "Dolls Eyes" or "White Baneberry"
Synonyms - Actaea alba
Native of - Midwestern to Eastern US, see
USDA Hardiness Zone - zone 5, maybe 4?
Light preference - Full shade to part sun
Soil preference - Average
Moisture preference - Average to moist
Bloom time - Mid Spring
Bloom color - Creamy white and fragrant
Foliage - Medium to light green, dissected
Spread - clumps to about 12"
Height - 12" - 24"
Landscape uses - Middle shade border or wild woodland garden
Medicinal uses - Poisonous
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© 2001 Barry Glick and Sunshine Farm & Gardens
Copyright © Barry Glick 1996-2020. All Rights Reserved.
Barry Glick, Sunshine Farm and Gardens
696 Glicks Rd, Renick, WV 24966, USA
Phone: (304) 497-2208
Last modified February 24, 2009