Actaea racemosa - L.
Black Cohosh
Other English Common Names: Black Baneberry, Black Bugbane, black snakeroot
Other Common Names: black baneberry
Synonym(s): Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt.
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt. (TSN 18757)
French Common Names: cimicaire grappes
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.154359
Element Code: PDRAN02040
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Buttercup Family
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Ranunculales Ranunculaceae Actaea
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Concept Reference Code: B99KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Actaea racemosa
Taxonomic Comments: Widely known as Cimicifuga racemosa (FNA vol. 3); Kartesz (1999) treats this species (including the typical variety and var. dissecta) in the genus Actaea, maintaining the specific epithet. C. racemosa var. cordifolia has also been moved to Actaea, but under the epithets rubifolia and podocarpa. (The newly named) Actaea racemosa var. dissecta is said by Kartesz (1999) to be endemic to the state of Delaware, but is said by FNA to be known from Conn., Del., and Va., all on the basis of 19th-century collections.

This species can be distinguished from the Appalachian species C. americana by the lack of a deep, broad groove on the upper side of lowest petiole (leaf stem). When infertile, it can be easily confused with Actaea pachypoda, Aruncus dioicus, and Astilbe biternata, as well as other species of Cimicifuga.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 27Jun2016
Global Status Last Changed: 27Jan2000
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: This species has a very broad range in eastern North America, particularly Appalachia, and is frequently encountered in a wide variety of wooded habitats across its range. However, it is in great demand as a medicinal, with an amount estimated between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds (dry) traded last year, all of which came from wildcrafting sources since there are no significant cultivation sources for this species in the medicinal market (Blakley pers. comm.). This species experienced an estimated 500% increase in the U.S. market last year (Blakley pers. comm.). Even buyers concede that this species is in decline in the wild, and it is feared that it is too late to stop overharvesting of this species (Blakley pers. comm.). This species has been identified as a priority for conservation study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and has been known to decline in recent years (University of Maryland 1999). The author recommends that this GRANK be reviewed again within the next 2 or 3 years.
Nation: United States
National Status: N4
Nation: Canada
National Status: N2 (12Feb2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNR), Arkansas (SNR), Connecticut (SNR), Delaware (S4), District of Columbia (SNR), Georgia (S4), Illinois (S1), Indiana (S3), Iowa (SH), Kentucky (S5), Maine (SNA), Maryland (SNR), Massachusetts (S1), Michigan (SH), Mississippi (S1S2), Missouri (SNR), New Jersey (SNR), New York (S4), North Carolina (S4), Ohio (SNR), Pennsylvania (SNR), South Carolina (SNR), Tennessee (SNR), Virginia (S4), West Virginia (S4)
Canada Ontario (S2)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Eastern United States, with native occurrences from Massachusetts (Brumback and Mehrhoff 1996) and southern Ontario west to Illinois (USDA-NRCS 1999), Missouri (Smith pers. comm.); south to Arkansas, central Alabama (Schotz pers. comm.) through Georgia and South Carolina (Kartesz 1999, Pittman pers. comm.); historical populations in Michigan (Penskar pers. comm.) [but Kartesz (1999) considers these extant]. Kartesz (1999) also considers the plant extant in Maine.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Several thousand populations are estimated to be extant rangewide. Indiana: 100; Maryland: hundreds; North Carolina: 750-1000 on USFS lands (Kauffman pers. comm.); New York: thousands; South Carolina: 20 to 30; Tennessee: hundreds (Brumback and Mehrhoff 1996, APSU 1999).

Since this is such a common species throughout much of its range, these numbers can only be estimates. Additional information on species distribution and the number of populations can be gleaned from county occurrence dot maps (USDA-NRCS 1999). Estimation of population numbers is made more difficult in parts of its range by similarity in vegetative morphology to Actaea pachypoda, Aruncus dioicus, Astilbe biternata and other species of Cimicifuga.

Population Size Comments: Larger populations in coves can consist of 250 - 500 individual plants, though estimation of numbers is difficult when co-occurring with C. americana, or even with Actaea pachypoda when not fertile (Kauffman pers. comm.).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: There is evidence from reliable sources that collection for wild populations is occurring for the plant trade. This evidence is rangewide, especially on Forest Service and Park Service lands in North Carolina (Corbin pers. comm., Suggs pers. comm.). There is speculated to be collection in central Tennessee.

For national forest lands in North Carolina, collections for the medicinal trade are currently only reported for Pisgah National Forest, primarily within the Black Mountains of North Carolina (Kauffman pers. comm.). Amount of collection seems to be highly dependent upon wholesale costs, which have fluctuated widely (Kauffman pers. comm., Suggs pers. comm.). Prices dropped this last year from a peak of $12-17 to a current level of approximately $3 per pound dry weight (Suggs pers. comm.). Still, the number of permit requests has increased (Kauffman pers. comm.). Illegal collection is likely to be at or in excess of the amount specified below for the legal permits (Kauffman pers. comm.). Much of the material is going to Europe through suppliers such as Wilcox Natural Products, Goodman & Sons, and Botanicals International (Blakley pers. comm.). This species is also being actively sought on the Chinese and Korean black market, where it gets prices between $15-30 (rarely to $60) per pound dry weight (Corbin pers. comm.).

Wildcrafters and tradesmen are very quiet and proprietary about how much is collected and where (Suggs pers. comm., Penskar pers. comm., Corbin pers. comm.), so information on amounts is very difficult to come by. Most or all material on the market is from wildcrafted sources (Blakley pers. comm., Fletcher pers. comm.). In Tennessee, this plant is collected from the wild and sold as nursery stock (Warren Co. Nursery). There are reports that migrant workers are now being employed for wildcrafting, resulting in much more thorough collection from populations (Corbin pers. comm.). In a few cases, Suggs (pers. comm.) reports having seen "whole hillsides dug out".

USDA Forest Service collection permits, per Kauffman (pers. comm.): 1997: 2200 lbs. (dry); 1998: 12,000 lbs. (dry); 1999: 2150 lbs. (dry). A recent case was made where a poacher was caught with approximately 500 lbs. (dry) on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina (Corbin pers. comm.). A large dealer in herbs based in the southern Appalachians sold 55,000-60,000 lbs. (dry) in 1999 (Fletcher pers. comm.).

Halvorsen (pers. comm.) has heard of cases of irresponsible collectors selling upward of 15,000 lbs. (dry) per week, though he didn't know where these collections may have taken place.

An estimated amount between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds (dry) was traded last year, all of which came from wildcrafting sources since there are no significant cultivation sources for this species in the medicinal market (Blakley pers. comm.). Worldwide, this species outsells goldenseal, and experienced an estimated 500% increase in the U.S. market last year (Blakley pers. comm.). It is feared that it is too late to stop overharvesting of this species (Blakley pers. comm.). Given its purported health benefits, the demand for this species is only expected to increase as American consumers age and become more concerned with their health (Suggs pers. comm., Fletcher pers. comm., Blakley pers. comm.).

Trade in this species increased by 511% between 1997 and 1998, according to a person knowledgable in the herbal medicinal trade (McGuffin pers. comm.).

Since trade is in the root, harvest is deadly to the plant (McGuffin pers. comm.).

Demand is higher for woods-grown or wild sources due to purported medicinal benefits of slow growth in wild conditions (Corbin pers. comm.). No large scale cultivation exists for this species (Suggs pers. comm.). Attempts are being made to cultivate this species on woods-grown farms in Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia for the medicinal trade (Halvorsen pers. comm., Blakley pers. comm.). It is slow to develop from seed and requires shade; cultivation is primarily from root divisions at present (Blakley pers. comm.).

In addition to the demand for wildcrafted roots, habitat conversion and urban/rural development are significant direct threats (Homoya pers. comm., Pittman pers. comm., Kunsman pers. comm., Pearson pers. comm., Frye pers. comm.). Equally significant threats include habitat fragmentation and displacement by exotic species (Homoya pers. comm., Penskar pers. comm., Frye pers. comm.).

Short-term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Short-term Trend Comments: This species is likely to be declining more precipitously where there are concentrations of public lands (Forest Service and/or Park Service) because these areas seem to be favored collection locales for their large, intact forested areas (Corbin pers. comm.).

It can be speculated that this species will decline across its range due to consistent or increased levels of collection pressure until a viable cultivated alternative exists (Corbin pers. comm., Blakley pers. comm.). Both United Plant Savers and the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs list C. racemosa as "at risk" (United Plant Savers, NCPMH 1999).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: Eastern United States, with native occurrences from Massachusetts (Brumback and Mehrhoff 1996) and southern Ontario west to Illinois (USDA-NRCS 1999), Missouri (Smith pers. comm.); south to Arkansas, central Alabama (Schotz pers. comm.) through Georgia and South Carolina (Kartesz 1999, Pittman pers. comm.); historical populations in Michigan (Penskar pers. comm.) [but Kartesz (1999) considers these extant]. Kartesz (1999) also considers the plant extant in Maine.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, MEexotic, MI, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, TN, VA, WV
Canada ON

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
IA Plymouth (19149)*, Woodbury (19193)*
IL Carroll (17015), Cook (17031), Franklin (17055)*, Kendall (17093), Lake (17097), Mchenry (17111)
MA Berkshire (25003), Franklin (25011), Hampden (25013)*, Hampshire (25015)*, Worcester (25027)*
MS Tishomingo (28141)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
01 Middle Connecticut (01080201)+, Housatonic (01100005)+
04 Pike-Root (04040002)+
06 Pickwick Lake (06030005)+*, Bear (06030006)+
07 Apple-Plum (07060005)+, Des Plaines (07120004)+, Upper Fox (07120006)+, Lower Fox (07120007)+, Big Muddy (07140106)+*
10 Lower Big Sioux (10170203)+*, Blackbird-Soldier (10230001)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A perennial herb with large, compound basal leaves; flowers crowded into narrow racemes or panicles, to 2 meters tall. Flowers are white in color.
Ecology Comments: This species has been observed to bloom better in slightly disturbed or open wooded slopes (Pittillo pers. comm.).
Habitat Comments: The habitat for this species is primarily rich, mesic deciduous forests, coves and ravines with fertile soils and circumneutral to basic soil pH (Schafale pers. comm., Homoya pers. comm., Frye pers. comm.). It is found with montane oak-hickory forests, high-elevation red oak forests and northern hardwoods in the southern Blue Ridge (Schafale pers. comm.). It is frequently found in association with ash-beech-sugar maple and tulip poplar (Homoya pers. comm., Frye pers. comm.). In Indiana, this species is mostly associated with limestone and in unglaciated areas (Homoya pers. comm.).
Economic Attributes
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Economically Important Genus: Y
Commercial Importance: Minor cash crop
Economic Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG
Production Method: Wild-harvested
Economic Comments: Prices for this species were found as follows:

Southeast U.S., black market: $15-60/lb (dry) (wildcrafted herbs, Corbin pers. comm.)

Nationwide, internet: $10/fluid oz. (1:5 ratio)

Central Tennessee, nursery: $0.60/bare root whole plant (wild-collected, sold in bundles of 50)

Nationwide, internet: $9.50/45 capsules @ 450mg each

North Carolina?: $3/lb (dry) (Suggs pers. comm., current prices; peak prices were about $12-17/lb)

Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 03Jan2000
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: John R. Boetsch (1/00); rev. Eric Nielsen and L. Morse (1/00)

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • APSU Center for Field Biology and University of Tennessee Herbarium. 1999. October 6-last update. Atlas of Tennessee Vascular Plants. Online. Available: http://www.bio.utk.edu/botany/herbarium/vascular/atlas.html. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • Argus, G.W., K.M. Pryer, D.J. White and C.J. Keddy (eds.). 1982-1987. Atlas of the Rare Vascular Plants of Ontario.. Botany Division, National Museum of National Sciences, Ottawa.

  • Brumback, W.E., and L.J. Mehrhoff. 1996. Flora Conservanda: New England. The New England Plant Conservation Program list of plants in need of conservation. Rhodora 98 (895): 235-361.

  • Compton, J.A., A Culham, J.G. Gibbings and S.L. Jury. 1998. Phylogeny of Actaea including Cimicifuga (Ranunculaceae) inferred from nrDNA ITS sequence variation. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 26:185-197.

  • Compton, J.A., A. Culham, and S.L. Jury. 1998. Reclassification of Actaea to include Cimicifuga and Souliae (Ranunculaceae): phylogeny inferred from morphology, nrDNA ITS, and cpDNA trnL-F sequence variation. Taxon 47:593-634.

  • Deam, C. C. 1940. Flora of Indiana. Division of Forestry, Dept. of Conservation, Indianapolis, Indiana. 1236 pp.

  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 1997. Flora of North America north of Mexico. Vol. 3. Magnoliophyta: Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae. Oxford Univ. Press, New York. xxiii + 590 pp.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • McIntosh, K. L. and P.M. Catling. 1979. Notes on the Flora of the Canadian Portion of the Niagara Frontier. Ontario Field Biologist 33(1): 1-11.

  • Moye, William S. 2006. Highly Ranked Plants of the South Mountain Region. Unpublished notes sent via email to Misty Franklin in February 2006.

  • National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs. 1999. Black Cohosh. Online. Available: http://www.ncpmh.org/blacoh.html. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • Ramsey, G.W. 1987. Morphological considerations in the North American CIMICIFUGA (Ranunculaceae). Castanea 52:129-141.

  • Small, E., and P.M. Catling. 1998. Poorly known economic plants of Canada 16. Black Cohosh, Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt. CBA/ABC Bulletin 31(1):9-11.

  • Soper, J.H. 1962. Some genera of restricted range in the Carolinian flora of Canada. Transactions of the Royal Canadian Institute 34(1):3-56.

  • Sutherland, D.A. 1987. Annotated Checklist of the Plants of Haldimand-Norfolk. In: M.E. Gartshore, D.A. Sutherland and J.D. McCracken. The Natural Areas Inventory of Haldimand-Norfolk, Volume 2. Annotated Lists. Norfolk Field Naturalists, Simcoe. 152 pp.

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 1999. November 3-last update. The PLANTS database. Online. Available: http://plants.usda.gov/plants. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • United Plant Savers. Online. Available: http://www.plantsavers.org. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • University of Maryland Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology Problem Solving Group. 1999. Review of four species for potential listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Appendix II. Unpublished report.

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