Fantastic Design Plant: Autumn Snakeroot

Black is a tone not to be used. Show up in head-to-toe black and you are guaranteed to be taken seriously. Paint your walls dark and people know design is the thing. Same holds for the backyard. While black plants may appear to go against every natural grain, there is nothing more elegant — and complementary. One, Autumn snakeroot, is a striking specimen plant that also elevates and highlights surrounding crops. It may recede into the background but keep only enough panache to add the perfect exclamation point to a planting strategy.

Botanical name: Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ (previously Cimicifuga)

Common names: Bugbane, Fall snakeroot, black cohosh, fairy candles

USDA zones: 3 to 9 (find your zone)

Water condition:Regular; prefers moist, well-drained soil

Sun necessity: Partial shade

Mature size: 3 to 7 feet tall and 3 feet broad

Benefits and tolerances: Flowers attract birds, butterflies and bees; bull and rabbit resistant; salt and seaside tolerant

Seasonal interest: Beautiful foliage; fragrant, showy blossoms in late summer through fall

When to plant: Plant and split it into spring.

Distinguishing traits. ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ is as dark as they come when it comes to snakeroots. Dark, almost black, magenta foliage is what catches you. The leaves are highly divided and create an airy, understory feel.

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While its foliage occupies the show, do not dismiss its blooms. Early fall brings atop casting stalks, highly ornamental and pink blossoms. They top the leaves like tender wands.

Glenna Partridge Garden Design

The best way to use it. This plant doesn’t need any preconceived backyard use or design style, yet can make a powerful, sophisticated and individual announcement with it — it’s the perfect Little Black Dress of plants. Its soft texture, form and preferred growing conditions make it a natural addition to any modern woodland garden, a nod to the “brand new perennials” motion.

It would, however, be foolish to disregard the color of this plant, because the color is what makes it extraordinary. Pair it with foliage in a fall garden for color and contrast.


Alternatively, combine it with leaves to get a soft and magnificent tapestry. Here, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, implanted alongside Astilbe and Eryngium, evokes the colours of autumn.

Planting notes. ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ grows well in a woodland setting, so emulating those conditions will make growing this plant simpler. Site it in partial shade and maintain soil moisture that is consistent. Grow it into well-drained soil that is full of organic material. Although this plant can tolerate full sun in warmer climates, a lot of intense sunlight could scorch and burn the foliage. Search for flowers the next year.

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