GoatsbeardBotanical name: Aruncus dioicusPronunciation...


June 15, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher


Botanical name: Aruncus dioicus

Pronunciation: ar-UNK-ous

Family: Rosaceae (Rose)

Origin: North America, Eurasia

Class: Hardy perennial

Display period: June, July

Height: 4 to 6 feet

Environment: Part shade That a plant as ethereal as Aruncus dioicus should have acquired the name "goatsbeard" is mystifying. No explanation can be found for it in my not inconsiderable horticultural library, nor can I see anything in the plant's character to suggest such an unseemly association, unless it be that the flowers are white and somewhat wispy. It's the majestic presence of their foot-long -- or greater -- multiflowered panicles, in fact, that's the reason goatsbeard is so highly prized.

In earlier times, goatsbeard was classed as Spiraea aruncus, the similarity between the goatsbeard's flower spikes and those of some spireas being, no doubt, the reason for so categorizing it. But it's astilbe that comes nearest the mark, and it's with astilbe that aruncus is sometimes confused. But whereas the foliage of the two plants is similar, the goatsbeard's plumes are much larger and more airy.

To complicate matters further, goatsbeard is also known as Aruncus sylvester. The designation "sylvester," in Latin a term for growing in the woods or forest-loving, refers to the plant's preference for a somewhat shaded environment. "Dioicus" describes the goatsbeard's sexual makeup of male and female organs occurring on separate plants.

Its height and spread to about 3 feet in diameter require situating goatsbeard at the back of a border. Or it could be tucked into a ground cover as a specimen in front of shrubs, the way I featured it in my garden. Its commanding presence enables aruncus to create its own display with no help from other quarters.

Despite its size, it is not invasive and rarely needs staking. Given enough room to develop, aruncus can occupy the same space for many years before requiring division, a measure to be avoided because of the fight the tough root puts up at attempts to dislodge it. Plants are long-lived and sail merrily on with little care.


Because of an editing error, the wrong photograph appeared with the Plant Notebook in last Saturday's editions of The Sun. Above is Spirea Anthony Waterer, the subject of last week's notebook. The Sun regrets the error.

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