Early Blue Cohosh

Caulophyllum giganteum Berberidaceae

Growth habit




Native distribution

Native to the Finger Lakes Region


A 2.5' tall plant with dark purple shoots that uncoil to form lacy green foliage in early spring. Flowers are maroon and inconspicuous.
Light: shade to part shade
Moisture and Soil: moist to soil


Seed Treatment and Storage: Scarify seeds and cold/moist stratify. Difficult to germinate, may take 3-4 years.

Biocultural value

Many Native American groups collected blue cohosh for its anti-inflammatory properties. The Potawatomi and the Cherokee, for example, prescribed it during childbirth to reduce inflammation of the womb. The Fox, Menominee, Ojibwa, and Chippewa also used Blue Cohosh to suppress profuse menstruation.

The statements above are sourced from:

Native American Ethnobotany Database: http://naeb.BRIT Native American Ethnobotany Database.org/

Wildlife value

Self-pollination is common in blue cohosh (Hannan, Hewlett and Prucher 1996), although the flowers are visited by an assortment of flies (order Diptera), damsel bugs (Nabis roseipennis), and sweat bees (Lasioglossum spp.). The plant's primary agents of seed dispersal are woodland birds, but the white-footed mouse and woodland deer mouse eat the fruit as well. White-tailed deer and other mammalian herbivores avoid the toxic foliage.

Further reading: Hannan, Gary L., and Hewlett A. Prucher. "Reproductive Biology of Caulophyllum Thalictroides (Berberidaceae), an Early Flowering Perennial of Eastern North America." The American Midland Naturalist 136, no. 2 (1996): 267-77. doi:10.2307/2426731.

Climate change sensitivity

Over the period from 1986 to 2015, Caulophyllum giganteum bloomed an average of 7 days earlier.



Poisonous description

The leaves and seed contain methylcytisine and glycosides which are poisonous to humans and will cause severe stomach pains if ingested. The root can cause contact dermatitis.


Mundy Wildflower Garden, Purvis Road Wetlands Natural Area, Ringwood Ponds, Tarr-Young Preserve

Special characteristics

This species has unusual blue fruits which are technically not fruits, but naked seeds, that develop in a unique way among all flowering plants.