Sambucus nigra

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 Sambucus nigra subsp. var.  Black elder, European elder
Shrub in flower
Habit: tree
Height: to
Width: to
8ft30ft 10ft20ft
Height: 8 ft to 30 ft
Width: 10 ft to 20 ft
Lifespan: perennial
Poisonous: see text
Bloom: early spring, mid spring, late spring, early summer, mid summer, late summer
Exposure: sun
Water: moist
Features: deciduous, flowers, edible
Hidden fields, interally pass variables to right place
Minimum Temp: °Fwarning.png"°F" is not a number.
USDA Zones: 5 to 10
Sunset Zones:
Flower features: white
Caprifoliaceae > Sambucus nigra var. , L.

Sambucus nigra is a species complex of elder native to most of Europe[1] , northwest Africa southwest Asia, and western North America.

It is most commonly called Elder, Elderberry, Black Elder, European Elder, European Elderberry, European Black Elderberry[2][3], Common Elder, or Elder Bush when distinction from other species of Sambucus is needed. It grows in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations.

It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 4–6 m (rarely to 10 m) tall. The bark, light grey when young, changes to a coarse grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10–30 cm long, pinnate with five to seven (rarely nine) leaflets, the leaflets 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin.

The hermaphrodite flowers are borne in large corymbs 10–25 cm diameter in mid summer, the individual flowers white, 5–6 mm diameter, with five petals; they are pollinated by flies.

The fruit is a dark purple to black berry 3–5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in the late autumn; they are an important food for many fruit-eating birds, notably Blackcaps.

Toxicity: The dark blue/purple berries can be eaten when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state. [4] . All green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides (Vedel & Lange 1960). The seeds of red elderberries are toxic and must be removed before eating red elderberries or food products from red elderberries. The berries are edible after cooking and can be used to make jam, jelly, chutney and Pontack sauce. Also when cooked they go well with blackberries and with apples in pies.

It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf from March to November, in flower from June to July, and the seeds ripen from August to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Flies. It is noted for attracting wildlife. The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soil. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure. It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Sambucus nigra, Linn. European Elder. Large shrub or tree, to 30 ft., with deeply furrowed bark: all parts when bruised exhaling a disagreeable odor: branches gray, strongly lenticellate: lvs. dark green, usually pubescent beneath while young; lfts. 3-7, usually 5, short-stalked, elliptic, acute, serrate, 2-6 in. long: cymes 5-rayed, to 5 in. across: fr. black, lustrous, 3- celled, 1/4-1/3 in. across. May, June: fr. Aug., Sept. Eu., W. Afr., W. Asia. Many varieties: Var. pyramidata, Lav. (var. pyramidalis, Dipp.). Habit columnar. Var. pendula, Dipp. Pendulous or prostrate. Var. nana, Schwerin. Forming a globose bush about 3 ft. high; weak-growing. Var. rotundifolia, Endl. Lfts. 3, rarely 5, broadly ovate to suborbicular. Var. laciniata, Willd. (S. laciniata, Mill.). Lfts. regularly and finely dissected. R.F.G. 12:780. A handsome and distinct form. Var. heterophylla, Endl. (var. linearis, Kirchn.). Lfts. irregularly cut and erose and partly reduced to the midrib; slow-growing form. Var. latisecta, Hesse. Lvs. broadly lobed. Var. albo-variegata, Endl. Lvs. variegated with white. Var. pulverulenta, Sweet. Lvs. finely dotted and sprinkled with white. Var. aurea, Sweet. Lvs. golden yellow. Var. viridis, Ait. (var. chlorocarpa, Hayne. Var. virescens, Sweet). Fr. pale green, striped whitish. CH

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.


A very easily grown plant, it tolerates most soils and situations[11, 28, 98], growing well on chalk[28, 98, 186], but prefers a moist loamy soil[200]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates some shade but fruits better in a sunny position[37, 200]. Tolerates atmospheric pollution and coastal situations[200]. Another report says that it is intolerant of very smoky atmospheres[186]. The elder is very occasionally cultivated for its edible fruit, there are some named varieties though most of these have been developed for their ornamental value[182]. The sub-species S. nigra alba has white/green fruits that are nicer than the type species and are quite nice raw[K]. The elder also has a very long history of folk use, both medicinally and for a wide range of other uses. All in all it is a very valuable plant to have in the garden. The leaves often begin to open as early as January and are fully open in April[186]. The leaves fall in October/November in exposed sites, later in sheltered positions[186]. Young stems can be killed by late frosts but they are soon replaced from the ground level[186]. Very tolerant of pruning, plants can be cut back to ground level and will regrow from the base[186]. The flowers have a sweet, almost overpowering smell, not exactly pleasant when inhaled near to for it has fishy undertones, but from a distance its musky scent is appealing[245]. Very resistant to the predations of rabbits[17, 186]. The flowers are very attractive to insects[186]. The fruit is very attractive to birds[186] and this can draw them away from other cultivated fruits[14, 186]. The elder is an early colonizer of derelict land, the seed arriving in the defecations of birds and mammals[186]. It is a very good pioneer species for re-establishing woodlands. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200].


Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame, when it should germinate in early spring. Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame but will probably germinate better if it is given 2 months warm followed by 2 months cold stratification first[78, 98, 113]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. If good growth is made, the young plants can be placed in their permanent positions during the early summer. Otherwise, either put them in a sheltered nursery bed, or keep them in their pots in a sheltered position and plant them out in spring of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame[78]. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, 15 - 20cm with a heel, late autumn in a frame or a sheltered outdoor bed[78]. Division of suckers in the dormant season.

Pests and diseases

Like other elderberries, Sambucus nigra is subject to Elder whitewash fungus.

Elder Whitewash fungus (Hyphodontia sambuci)].


Some selections and cultivars have variegated or coloured leaves and other distinctive qualities, and are grown by the horticultural industry for public landscapes and private gardens.

  • 'Alba' - The fruit of this form is very pale and seems to be much more acceptable to the human palate than the type species. In a taste test all 7 people found the raw fruit of this form quite acceptable to eat[K].
  • 'Cae Rhos Lligwy' - The fruit is large and green with a gooseberry flavour[200].



  1. Sambucus nigra at Flora Europaea
  2. Template:ITIS
  3. Sambucus nigra at USDA PLANTS Database
  4. Professor Julia Morton, University of Miami

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