Morphological Variation in Black Cohosh—A Threatened Medicinal Plant

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  • 1 Univ. of Massachusetts, Dept. of Plant & Soil Sciences, Amherst, MA 01003
  • | 2 Univ. of Massachusetts, Dept. of Plant & Soil Sciences, Amherst, MA 01003
  • | 3 Univ. of Massachusetts, Dept. of Plant & Soil Sciences, Amherst, MA 01003

Black cohosh [Actaea racemosa L.; syn. Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt], a plant native to the eastern United States, is believed to have been used as a medicinal by Native Americans for thousands of years. Currently, the root of the species is popular as a herbal remedy for the relief of menopausal symptoms. Recent estimates suggest that over 90% of the black cohosh sold is collected from the wild, resulting in an unsustainable harvest of ≈9 million individual plants per year. This study investigated the morphological variation of the plant at the population and species levels to assist plant breeders working on domestication and government agencies responsible for conservation of the species. Examination of leaves and flowers suggest morphological of the species is relatively low, but that several populations have unique morphological characteristics.

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