E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Actaea elata (Nutt.) Prantl
tall bugbane
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Brian Klinkenberg  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #4380)

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Distribution of Actaea elata
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Actaea elata var. elata


Tall bugbane is a Pacific Northwest endemic species that ranges from Oregon north to British Columbia. In BC, it is restricted to the Chilliwack area south of the Fraser River. It is a rare, tall, perennial understorey species of moist areas in old growth and mature forests. It is a species of mixed forests, where it shows preference for benches. Although tall bugbane is a rhizomatous species, rhizomes are short, dark.and tuberous and reproduction is primarily by seed. Tall bugbane was first reported in BC from the Chilliwack River by Macoun in 1901 (Penny and Douglas 1999). Tall bugbane is distinctive when in flower, with tall panicles of white flowers on 4-14 raceme-like branches present in summer.

Species Information

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Perennial herb from a woody rhizome; stems erect, branched above, 120-180 cm tall, sparsely minutely-hairy to woolly-hairy, glandular, especially above.
Alternate, stalked, the stalks to 40 cm long, angled, grooved on stem side, basal wings clasping stem; leaves large, to 80 cm long, twice 3-parted, leaflets heart-egg-shaped, 5-18 cm long, 7-23 cm wide, usually 3-lobed and again shallowly and irregularly lobed and toothed, the teeth gland-tipped, palmately veined, pointy-tipped, fine-hairy beneath, smooth above, margins fringed.
Inflorescence a terminal cluster of 4- to 14-flowered, raceme-like branches, 7-17 cm long, the inflorescence stalks subtended by 3 bracts, the central bract largest, lance awl-shaped; inflorescence glandular-hairy; flower stalks 1-8 mm long; petals absent; sepals 5, white or pinkish, egg-shaped, early deciduous; stamens 20-30, cream-coloured, showy, the outer sometimes broadened; pistils 1 to 3, glandular-hairy.
Follicles, usually 1 in upper flowers, often 2 or rarely 3 in lower flowers of racemes, oblong, 8-12 mm long, somewhat flattened, thin-walled, finely glandular-hairy; unstalked or stalks to 2 mm long; seeds reddish to purplish-brown, lens-shaped, about 2

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Habitat / Range

Moist forests in the lower montane zone; rare in extreme SW BC, known only from the Cultus Lake-Chilliwack River area; S to NW OR.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Additional Notes

This species shows a marked preference for benches in the Chilliwack area.


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is not evaluated, unknown or variable.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Actaea elata var. elata (Nutt.) Prantl
Cimicifuga elata Nutt.

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

Species References

Penny, J.L., and G.W. Douglas. 2001. COSEWIC status report on the tall bugbane Cimicifuga elata in Canada, in COSEWIC assessment and status report on the tall bugbane Cimicifuga elata in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. Available online.

General References