A morphometric analysis of Actaea racemosa L. (Ranunculaceae)
Z. Gardner, L. Lueck, E.B. Erhardt, L.E. Craker
Journal of Medicinally Active Plants
Actaea racemosa L. (syn. Cimicifuga racemosa [L.] Nutt.), Ranunculaceae, commonly known as black cohosh, is an herbaceous, perennial, medicinal plant native to the deciduous woodlands of eastern North America. Historical texts and current sales data indicate the continued popularity of this plant as an herbal remedy for over 175 years. Much of the present supply of A. racemosa is harvested from the wild. Diversity within and between populations of the species has not been well characterized. The purpose of this study was to assess the morphological variation of A. racemosa and identify patterns of variation at the population and species levels. A total of twentysix populations representative of a significant portion of the natural range of the species were surveyed and plant material was collected for the morphological analysis of 37 leaflet, flower, and whole plant characteristics. In total, 511 leaflet samples and 83 flower samples were examined. Several of the populations surveyed had sets of relatively unique characteristics (large leaflet measurements, tall leaves and flowers, and a large number of stamen) and Tukey-Kramer multiple comparisons revealed significant differences between specific populations for 20 different characteristics. However, no unique phenotype was found. Considerable morphological plasticity was noted in the apices of the staminodia. Cluster analyses showed that the morphological variation within populations is not smaller than between population and that this variation in not influenced by their geographic distribution.