Goat's Beard Plant Profile

How It Differs From Astilbe

Goat's beard plants in bloom.

 RiverNorthPhotography / Getty Images

Goat's beard is a medium-sized perennial valued for its showy plumes, dark-green foliage, and tolerance for a variety of growing conditions. Goat's beard belongs to the rose family, which also includes such landscape plants as rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis), Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica), and flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa).

Botanical Names Aruncus dioicus
Common Names Goat's beard, goatsbeard, buck's beard, bride's feathers
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 4 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Moist, rich
Soil pH From slightly acidic to neutral to slightly alkaline
Bloom Time Early summer
Flower Color Creamy-white
Hardiness Zones 4 to 7
Native Areas Asia, Europe, North America

How to Grow Goat's Beard

Goat's beard is dioecious. Male plants bear flower clusters that are more erect (like those on Astilbe) than those on female plants, and many gardeners find them more attractive for this reason. This perennial grows from underground rhizomes and can be divided (in fall or in early spring) if you wish to increase your supply of it. It can also multiply via seed; if you wish to prevent such spreading, deadhead the plant.

Light

In the North, you have the option of growing goat's beard either in full sun or in partial shade, depending upon your landscaping needs. But give it partial shade in the South.

Soil

Add organic matter to the soil so that it retains moisture better.

Water

Goat's beard needs at least an average amount of water. It tolerates soil that is above-average in moisture content.

Fertilizer

Goat's beard likes a rich soil. If you prefer to stay organic when fertilizing, mix compost into the soil.

Uses for Goat's Beard

Since goat's beard tolerates wet soil, it is a good choice to use around water gardens. Meanwhile, its ability to grow in partial shade argues for its inclusion in woodland gardens. Since its compound leaves are pretty even when the plant is not in flower, it is a nice choice where a tall edging (border) plant is called for. The tolerance of this perennial for a soil pH ranging from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline gives it additional versatility.

Native plant enthusiasts treat goat's beard as a specimen in native shade gardens. Its white flowers make it a candidate for moon gardens. The plant attracts butterflies and birds, yet it is both deer-resistant and rabbit-proof.

Goat's beard makes for a good cut flower, and it also has medicinal uses. It can be made into a tea used to soak your feet in to relieve foot pain (as an alternative to Epsom salts).

Varieties of Goat's Beard

A. dioicus is not the only species of goat's beard. There is also a Korean type (A. aethusifolius). The latter is a smaller plant (six to eight inches high and 12 inches wide).

There are also cultivars of A. dioicus. Many of these have been bred to be more compact than the species plant; examples include:

  • 'Glasnevin'
  • 'Kneiffii'
  • 'Zweiweltenkind'

Likewise, you can buy a cross between A. dioicus and A. aethusifolius known as 'Horatio' that stands two to three feet tall, with a spread of one and a half to two and a half feet.

Goat's Beard vs. Astilbe

Goat's beard is often confused with Astilbe, one of the common names for which is, in fact, "false goat's beard." The two plants have the following in common:

  • They bear clusters of tiny flowers in "plumes."
  • Their compound leaves offer a feathery texture.

But they differ in the following respects:

  • They are not related botanically (Astilbe is in the saxifrage family).
  • Astilbe is smaller.
  • Because it comes in other colors (red, pink, lavender, violet), in addition to white, Astilbe is of greater interest to growers who garden mainly for floral color.
Flowering goat´s beard (Aruncus dioicus)
Flowering Goat's Beard. Justus de Cuveland / Getty Images
Pink Astilbe
Pink Astilbe Flower. Roxiller / Getty Images

Companion Plants for Goat's Beard in Northern Shade Gardens

Take advantage of the shade tolerance of goat's beard and grow it in the North with other plants that can also be grown in partial shade. The following companion plants are also native to North America. Some are spring ephemerals that leave "holes" behind in your garden design once they have died back; goat's beard can help disguise those holes: