Sambucus nigra

NOTE: Conventionally treated as S. nigra L. ssp. canadensis (L.) Bolli;
Sambucus nigra
(ssp. nigra) is European.

  • ALTERNATE COMMON NAME: American elder, wild elder
  • LEAVES: deciduous, opposite, once odd-pinnately compound with 5-11 sessile or short-stalked leaflets, the lowermost 1 or 2 pairs of leaflets are often strongly divided or compound, thus leaves may be partially bipinnate; typical leaflets elliptic, lanceolate, or ovate, 2-5” long by 0.75-2.3” wide (variable!); leaflet tips acuminate, bases round to acute, margins serrate; leaflet surfaces dark green above, paler green below
  • FLOWER: perfect (bisexual), corolla of 5 spreading petals, 0.1-0.2” across; flowers in large flat-topped decompound cymes terminating branches; mainly flowering in spring, but some flowering plants can be found throughout the growing season
  • FRUIT: purple black, juicy berrylike drupe with multiple pits, 0.16-0.2” long; maturing August to September
  • TWIGS: stout, warty, large white pith
  • BARK: light grayish brown with darker and conspicuously raised lenticels; bark of older plants more grayish, and shallowly furrowed
  • FORM: soft-stemmed, colonial shrub to ca. 15’ tall
  • HABITAT: weedy in open disturbed wet areas, forest edges, bayou and canal banks; also in shady understories of wet to mesic rich-soil forests such as bottomland hardwoods and southern mesophytic hardwood forest
  • RANGE: eastern North America [USGS Range Map]
  • USES: flowers and fruit are edible; fruit used for jams, wine, pies, preserves, flowers used in baking; many other uses – see Allen et al. (2005) in sources
  • WILDLIFE: fruit is relished by many birds and mammals, including black bear and whitetail deer; preferred deer browse – intense browsing can “train” shrubs to become arborescent
  • Best Recognition Features:
    1. weak-stemmed colonial shrub with large white pith and conspicuous lenticels
    2. eaves opposite once-pinnate, some leaves partially bipinnate
    3. showy large flat-topped inflorescences with white flowers terminating branches; fruit a purple-black berrylike drupe