Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
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.
Catalog Number: US 125846
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): A. Commons
Year Collected: 1871
Locality: Near Centreville., New Castle, Delaware, United States, North America
- Lectotype: Gray, A. 1890. Manual. 47.; Compton, J. A., et al. 1998. Taxon. 47: 614.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
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.).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
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.
This species has been observed to bloom better in slightly disturbed or open wooded slopes (Pittillo pers. comm.).
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Actaea racemosa
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: 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.
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
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).
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.).
Biological Research Needs: There is a critical need to develop adequate propagation techniques for cultivation of this species (Blakley pers. comm., Kauffman pers. comm.), and to determine whether any levels of collection from wild populations are sustainable (Kauffman pers. comm.). Further work on the demography of this species is needed to determine minimum viable population sizes (Kauffman pers. comm.). A better understanding of the natural history, breeding systems, and genetic variation both within and between populations is also necessary.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Production Methods: Wild-harvested
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)
Actaea racemosa (black cohosh, black bugbane, black snakeroot, fairy candle; syn. Cimicifuga racemosa) is a species of flowering plant of the family Ranunculaceae. It is native to eastern North America from the extreme south of Ontario to central Georgia, and west to Missouri and Arkansas. It grows in a variety of woodland habitats, and is often found in small woodland openings. The roots and rhizomes have long been used medicinally by Native Americans. Extracts from these plant materials are thought to possess analgesic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Black cohosh is a smooth (glabrous) herbaceous perennial plant that produces large, compound leaves from an underground rhizome, reaching a height of 25–60 centimetres (9.8–23.6 in). The basal leaves are up to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) long and broad, forming repeated sets of three leaflets (tripinnately compound) having a coarsely toothed (serrated) margin. The flowers are produced in late spring and early summer on a tall stem, 75–250 centimetres (30–98 in) tall, forming racemes up to 50 centimetres (20 in) long. The flowers have no petals or sepals, and consist of tight clusters of 55-110 white, 5–10 mm long stamens surrounding a white stigma. The flowers have a distinctly sweet, fetid smell that attracts flies, gnats, and beetles. The fruit is a dry follicle 5–10 mm long, with one carpel, containing several seeds.
The plant species has a history of taxonomic uncertainty dating back to Carl Linnaeus, who — on the basis of morphological characteristics of the inflorescence and seeds — had placed the species into the genus Actaea. This designation was later revised by Thomas Nuttall reclassifying the species to the genus Cimicifuga. Nuttall's classification was based solely on the dry follicles produced by black cohosh, which are typical of species in Cimicifuga. However, recent data from morphological and gene phylogeny analyses demonstrate that black cohosh is more closely related to species of the genus Actaea than to other Cimicifuga species. This has prompted the revision to Actaea racemosa as originally proposed by Linnaeus. Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), despite its similar common name belongs to another family, the Berberidaceae, and is therefore not closely related to black cohosh.
A. racemosa grows in dependably moist, fairly heavy soil. It bears tall tapering racemes of white midsummer flowers on wiry black-purple stems, whose mildly unpleasant, medicinal smell at close range gives it the common name "Bugbane". The drying seed heads stay handsome in the garden for many weeks. Its deeply cut leaves, burgundy colored in the variety "atropurpurea", add interest to gardens, wherever summer heat and drought do not make it die back, which make it a popular garden perennial. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
Native Americans used black cohosh to treat gynecological and other disorders, including sore throats, kidney problems, and depression. Following the arrival of European settlers in the U.S. who continued the medicinal usage of black cohosh, the plant appeared in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1830 under the name “black snakeroot”. In 1844 A. racemosa gained popularity when Dr. John King, an eclectic physician, used it to treat rheumatism and nervous disorders. Other eclectic physicians of the mid-nineteenth century used black cohosh for a variety of maladies, including endometritis, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, sterility, severe after-birth pains, and for increased breast milk production.
Black cohosh is used today mainly as a dietary supplement marketed to women as remedies for the symptoms of premenstrual tension, menopause and other gynecological problems. Recent meta-analysis of contemporary evidence supports these claims. Study design and dosage of black cohosh preparations play a role in clinical outcome, and recent investigations with pure compounds found in black cohosh have identified some beneficial effects of these compounds on physiological pathways underlying age-related disorders like osteoporosis.
According to Cancer Research UK: "Doctors are worried that using black cohosh long term may cause thickening of the womb lining. This could lead to an increased risk of womb cancer." They also caution that people with liver problems should not take it as it can damage the liver, although a 2011 meta-analysis of research evidence suggested this concern may be unfounded.
No studies exist on long-term safety of black cohosh use in humans. In a transgenic mouse model of cancer, black cohosh did not increase incidence of primary breast cancer, but increased metastasis of pre-existing breast cancer to the lungs.
Liver damage has been reported in a few individuals using black cohosh, but many women have taken the herb without reporting adverse health effects, and a meta-analysis of several well-controlled clinical trials found no evidence that black cohosh preparations have any adverse effect on liver function. Although evidence for a link between black cohosh and liver damage is not conclusive, Australia has added a warning to the label of all black cohosh-containing products, stating that it may cause harm to the liver in some individuals and should not be used without medical supervision. Other studies conclude that liver damage from use of black cohosh is unlikely, and that the main concern over its safe use is lack of proper authentication of plant materials and adulteration of commercial preparations with other plant species.
Because the vast majority of black cohosh materials are harvested from plants growing in the wild, a recurring concern regarding the safety of black cohosh-containing dietary supplements is mis-identification of plants causing unintentional mixing-in (adulteration) of potentially harmful materials from other plant sources.
Like most plants, black cohosh tissues and organs contain many organic compounds with biological activity. Estrogen-like compounds had originally been implicated in effects of black cohosh extracts on vasomotor symptoms in menopausal women. Several other studies, however, have indicated absence of estrogenic effects and compounds in black cohosh-containing materials. Recent findings suggest that some of the clinically relevant physiological effects of black cohosh may be due to compounds that bind and activate serotonin receptors, and a derivative of serotonin with high affinity to serotonin receptors, Nω-methylserotonin, has been identified in black cohosh. Complex biological molecules, such as triterpene glycosides (e.g. cycloartanes), have been shown to reduce cytokine-induced bone loss (osteoporosis) by blocking osteoclastogenesis in in vitro and in vivo models. 23-O-acetylshengmanol-3-O-β-d-xylopyranoside, a cycloartane glycoside from Actaea racemosa, has been identified as a novel efficacious modulator of GABAA receptors with sedative activity in mice 
Cimigenol a contiment of Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh)]]
Formononetin a contiment of Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh)
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Several varieties (A. Gray et al. 1878-1897, vol. 1(1,1), pp. 53-55) or forms (M. L. Fernald 1950) have been named. Specimens with extremely dissected leaves from Connecticut to Delaware and Virginia have been called Cimicifuga racemosa var. dissecta A. Gray, or C . racemosa forma dissecta (A. Gray) Fernald. Of the approximately 2500 specimens of C . racemosa examined, only twelve represent var. dissecta , and only two of those have flowers or fruits. Because of the limited knowledge concerning the dissected-leaf form, and because plants similar to those referred to by Gray and Fernald have not been collected in this century, the form is of uncertain taxonomic significance. Further study is needed.
Native Americans used infusions of plants of Cimicifuga racemosa medicinally to stimulate menstruation, to treat rheumatic pains, coughs and colds, constipation, and kidney trouble, to make babies sleep, and to promote milk flow in women (D. E. Moerman 1986).
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Widely known as Cimicifuga racemosa; 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.
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