This section is from the book "An Illustrated Flora Of The Northern United States, Canada And The British Possessions Vol2", by Nathaniel Lord Britton, Addison Brown. Also available from Amazon: An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 Volume Set..
Erect perennial herbs, with large ternately compound leaves, and small white flowers in terminal racemes. Sepals 3-5, petaloid, fugacious. Petals 4-10, small, spatulate or narrow, clawed. Stamens numerous; filaments slender. Ovary 1, many-ovuled, forming in fruit a large somewhat poisonous berry; stigma broad, sessile. Seeds numerous, in 2 rows, horizontal. [An ancient name of the elder.]
About 6 known species, natives of the north temperate zone. Besides the following another occurs in the western United States. Type species: Actaea spicata L.
Pedicels slender; berries red.
Pedicels stout; berries white.
Actaea spicata var. rubra Ait. Hort. Kew. 2: 221.
2: 55. 1897.
Erect, bushy, 1°-2° high, pubescent or glabrate. Leaves petioled, or the upper sessile, ternate, the divisions pinnate with the lower ultimate leaflets sometimes again compound; leaflets ovate or the terminal one obovate, toothed or somewhat cleft, or all deeply incised, the teeth mainly rounded or mucronate, or acutish; raceme ovoid; petals spatulate, shorter than the stamens; pedicels mainly slender, 5"-7" long; berries red, oval or ellipsoid, 5"-6" long.
In woods, Nova Scotia to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, west to South Dakota and Nebraska. April-June: A. spicata L., of Europe, has purplish-black berries. Coral- and -pearl. Red-berry. Snake-root. Poison-berry. Snake-berry. Toad-root. This and the following species are called also herb-christopher, grapewort and rattlesnake-herb.
Actaea argůta Nutt., of western North America, with smaller globose red berries, enters our western limits in western Nebraska and South Dakota.
Actaea spicata var. alba L. Sp. Pl 504. 1753. Actaea alba Mill. Gard. Dict. Ed. 8, no. 2. 1768.
Closely resembles the preceding species in habit and aspect. Leaflets generally more cut and the teeth and lobes acute or acuminate; raceme oblong; petals truncate at the apex; fruiting pedicels as thick as the peduncle and often red; berries short-oval, white, often purplish at the end.
In woods, Nova Scotia and Anticosti to Georgia, west to Minnesota and Missouri. Ascends to 5000 ft. in Virginia. April-June. Races or hybrids with white berries and slender pedicels (A. neglecta Gill-man, A. eburnea Rydb.), and red berries on thickened pedicels are occasionally met with. White or blue cohosh. White-beads. Necklace-weed. White-berry. Snake-root.