My grandmother brought me a bunch of shade-loving plants from her garden to help me fill in a few gaps in my own. She had most of them identified but this one had her stumped. Here's what I know from her:

This is a perennial that thrives in shady conditions. It grows about 5 foot tall and produces small, but very fragrant, white blossoms in July or August. It spreads easily without human intervention. It was found in New York and may be a native species, but that is not guaranteed.

This is a picture of the plant a few weeks after it emerges in Spring: sorry about the smudge

Early Summer Update: Flower buds have formed. Early Flower

3 Answers 3


I am confident that this is Valeriana officinalis.

"Valerian is a perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers that bloom in the summer. Valerian flower extracts were used as a perfume in the 16th century." ~ Wikipedia

Description: https://davisla.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/plant-of-the-week-valeriana-officinalis/

How to grow: http://theherbgardener.blogspot.ca/2013/04/how-to-grow-valerian.html

Identification images: http://wildflowerfinder.org.uk/Flowers/V/Valerian(Common)/Valerian(Common).htm

Descriptive identification key (Expand "Show All Characteristics"): https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/valeriana/officinalis/

  • Hmm, well actually Valerian is generally considered to have an aroma - but it is not perceived as 'sweetly scented' by any stretch of the imagination by most people, more usually being described as musty, sour or rank, caused by the foliage...
    – Bamboo
    Apr 27, 2016 at 17:54
  • Based on the pictures provided I'm strongly suspicious this is the right answer, or at least the most similar of the answers provided. I think I'll crush a stem of it to see if the foliage smells as unpleasant as this plants reputation.
    – GardenerJ
    Apr 28, 2016 at 1:56
  • having looked again myself this morning, I suspect this answer is accurate, or as accurate as it can be without more evidence - the stem is too thick to be what I've suggested (Cimicifuga). I've been in the vicinity of Valeriana flowering, and I can't say it was a pleasant smell in the least, but then I have a very pronounced sense of smell. It was not something I would care to have in my garden, for sure, but these things are subjective anyway.
    – Bamboo
    Apr 28, 2016 at 9:53
  • Here we are a month later. Flower buds have formed and they look just like Valerian. Good enough for me. Accepted.
    – GardenerJ
    May 30, 2016 at 1:24

If the flowers on this plant are long, cone shaped, yet still small, it's Cimicifuga racemosa, also known as Actaea racemosa, common name Black Cohosh or Bugbane. Perennial, flowers around July, does well in shade, highly fragrant white flowers, height up to 6 feet, usually between 4 and 6 feet, including the flowers - the first link shows the leaves, flowers and seeds, the second is general information. Depends on whether you can remember what the flowers are like as to ID of Valeriana or Actaea!




Missing a picture of the blossoms, I can only go by your description and the leaves.

Going by the leaves, the love of shade and the scent, I would identify this is an astilbe. The tiny flowers are then clustered in large "feathery" or "cloud-like" plumes above the leaves, mostly upright, but there are also cultivars with more cascading flowers. Some cultivars are heavily scented and typical colours are white and pink tones. Leaf shapes vary a bit, from very narrow and serrated to more broader types and smoother rims, a lot of hybrids were created over time.

Astilbes like damp (semi-)shade, e.g. along ponds and can tolerate heavy clay. They multiply and spread easily if they like the conditions.

  • It might not be an astilbe if it gets 5' (1.5M) tall
    – kevinskio
    Apr 27, 2016 at 9:52
  • @kevinsky - The German Wikipedia says some cultivars reach 150-200 cm, this site also states 5 foot for some cultivars. Yes, the average is smaller, but neither are all cultivars scented.
    – Stephie
    Apr 27, 2016 at 9:57
  • The common ones for sale are mostly ~30 cm. Until we see a flower it's hard to say
    – kevinskio
    Apr 27, 2016 at 9:59
  • @kevinsky And as soon as OP comes up with a photo or a comment that suggests another plant, I'll happily remove his answer.
    – Stephie
    Apr 27, 2016 at 10:01

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