Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group) 'James Compton'
Common Name: bugbane 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Ranunculaceae
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 2.50 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: August to September
Bloom Description: Creamy white
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Colorful


Easily grown in average, medium moisture soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers humusy, organically rich, moisture-retentive soils. Foliage tends to scorch and otherwise depreciate if soils are allowed to dry out. Best sited in locations sheltered from strong winds. This is a slow-to-establish plant.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Actaea simplex typically grows to a total height of 3-4’. Small, numerous, creamy white, strongly fragrant flowers appear in late summer to early fall in long, terminal racemes resembling fluffy spires (typically 1-2’ long) rising above the foliage on upright, wiry stems. Astilbe-like, deeply cut, ternately compound foliage is an attractive deep green. Synonymous with and formerly known as Cimicifuga simplex.

Genus name is the Latin name adopted by Linnaeus from Pliny.

Specific epithet means simple or unbranched.

The common name of bugbane is in reference to the odoriferous insect repellant properties of this plant. A. simplex plants are also sometimes commonly called cohosh which comes from an Algonquin word meaning rough in reference to the appearance of plant rhizomes.

‘James Compton’ is a compact, bronze-leaved bugbane cultivar that typically grows to 2.5-3’ tall. Small, numerous, creamy white (sometimes with a pink tinge), fragrant flowers appear in late summer to early fall. Synonymous with and formerly known as Cimicifuga ramosa ‘James Compton’. Part of the Atropurpurea Group which includes cultivars that exhibit purple coloration of the stems, leaves, and inflorescences.


No serious insect or disease problems. Rust and leaf spot are occasional problems. Foliage generally does not need staking, but taller flower spires may need some support. Flower spires tend to bend toward bright light, particularly when plants are grown in substantial shade. Leaf margins may brown up (scorch) and growth may slow down if soils are not kept consistently moist.


Adds architectural height and late summer bloom to a shaded part of the border or shade garden. Also effective in woodland gardens, cottage gardens and naturalized areas. Best in groups, although single plants have good specimen value once established. White flower spires are generally more demonstrative in front of darker backgrounds. Deep green foliage provides excellent texture and color to the landscape throughout the growing season.