En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - May 28, 2014

From: Greenfield, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Brown leaf problem with herbaceous blooming plants from Greenfield MA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have 3 plants cimicifuga brunette and lots of astile planted near each other. Suddenly the edges of leaves have turned brown and shriveled and spread to entire plant, all of them. It has not been hot yet, they are well watered, has been raining often this spring. They are planted in rich soil. This was sudden and is spreading from plant to plant. The conditions have always been perfect. It is as if there is a blight. Any thoughts on this? Thank you.


The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America, but also to the place in which they are being grown; in your case, Franklin County, Massachusetts. We found no plant, native or non-native, with the name of "Astile," so we figured you meant "Astilbe." The genus Astilbe native to North America is Astilbe biternata (Appalachian false goat's beard). If you follow that plant link to our webpage on that plant you will see that it is native to southeastern states. As you can see from this USDA Plant Profile Map, this plant grows natively as near to Massachusetts as Virginia and West Virginia.

With the Cimicifuga brunette, we had a little more trouble, not finding any genus by that name in our Native Plant Database. However, we went to the Internet and discovered from this article from the Missouri Botanical Garden that all members of the Cimicifuga genus have been transferred to the Acteae genus and that it is now a cultivar correctly termed Actaea simplex 'Brunette.' Being a cultivar would mean it would not be in our Native Plant Database, but neither is Actaea simplex. In that same article we learned that this plant is sometimes referred to as "cohosh," or "bugbane" both of which are common names in our database of Actaea racemosa var. racemosa (Black cohosh) .

Botanists move in mysterious ways, and names get changed on plants without notice sometimes; we believe that your Cimicifuga brunette is actually   Actaea racemosa var. racemosa (Black cohosh). According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, it does grow natively in Franklin Co., Massachusetts.

We go through all this rigamarole to determine if a problem could be due to the plant being raised somewhere that does not have appropriate soils, climate or rainfall for that plant. However, we believe both your plants should be all right where you are growing them, and since they are different plants with the same (and spreading) symptoms, something else, a blight or disease, must be causing the trouble. Since we are gardeners, and not entomologists or plant pathologists, we need to refer you to some experts in your area who may already know what is going on.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst maintains an Extension Office for Western Massachusetts. On that site, you will find a Plant Problems Diagnostics website. This has contact information and the people there may very well already be familiar with the problem and know what to suggest you do.


From the Image Gallery

Appalachian false goat's beard
Astilbe biternata

White baneberry
Actaea pachypoda

Black cohosh
Actaea racemosa var. racemosa

Red baneberry
Actaea rubra

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

One wax myrtle declining in Austin
April 20, 2011 - I have 3 wax myrtles in a row; two are doing fine and one is looking "sad". It is thinning and when I checked a few branches they were dead, I pruned it and it was dead. I have had the trees for 7 y...
view the full question and answer

Growth on underside of squash plant leaves
August 22, 2009 - I have a mold in my garden that is oval in shape and has spikes growing out of it, the color is yellow. This mold (yup it's not a bug I checked) is all over the underside of my squash plants. Any hel...
view the full question and answer

Location of Alamo fungicide kit from Georgetown TX
July 03, 2012 - Where can I buy the Alamo fungicide injection kit shown in the oak wilt video?
view the full question and answer

Western soapberry dropping leaves in San Antonio
June 03, 2013 - My Western Soapberry tree (China berry?) Suddenly started dropping full, perfectly healthy green, leaf units. Now half the tree is turning yellow. There is a second tree in the yard not far from this ...
view the full question and answer

Central branches on Texas Ash have died
June 09, 2015 - I have a Texas Ash tree that was planted about 4 years ago. It seemed fine last summer and was well watered. This spring, when it started leafing out, the central branches at the upper part of the tre...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center