Elderberries for Fruit
Sambucus canadensis - American Elder or Elderberry
The American Elderberry drips with black berries in summer. Berries are commonly used to make wine, liqueurs & pies. Two different varieties must be planted to provide pollination for fruit production. Portland Nursery carries 'Nova' & 'York'. Leaves are medium green, flowers are creamy white.
Grows 5-12' tall & wider. Can be pruned & kept on the smaller side. Prune in March.
Hardy Z2 – some selections hardy to Z4.
Toxicity: Though the berries of native Sambucus are edible, they must be cooked first, as they frequently cause nausea and stomach upset when eaten raw. The leaves, woody stems and especially the roots are extremely toxic, due to the presence of cyanide-causing gliconides.
Elderberries for Ornament
Sambucus nigra - European or Common Elderberry.
This species offers a really wide range of leaf colors & makes a great addition to the garden. The purple and green leaf forms are fast-growing to 8-12' tall with a strong vase-shape. They're self-sufficient & easy to grow w/ few problems. Variegated (2-toned leaf) forms are a bit slower-growing with a bushier shape. They're susceptible to burning in hot afternoon sun so their ideal site is partly shaded.
'Black Beauty' – Dark purple leaves sometimes tinged green in cool weather, pink buds & pink to white flowers, black fruit.
Grows 8-12' x 8-12' - full to part sun.
'Black Lace' – Dark purple almost black cut-leaf form. Resembles a lace-leaf maple (if it grew really fast & loved sun). Pink flower buds & pink to white flowers, black fruit.
Grows 8-12' x 8-12', full to part sun.
'Madonna' – Bright gold, white & green leaves, black fruit. Grows slower than other forms & has a bushier shape.
Grows 6-8' x 6-8' – part to full shade.
'Variegata' – Cream & green leaves, frothy cream flowers & black fruit.
Grows 8-12' x 8-12', part to full shade. Hardy Z4.
Family: Caprifoliaceae – Honeysuckle Family
Genus: Sambucus (sam-BOO-cus)
Common Name: Elderberry
Origin: Native to the Americas, Europe, Asia, E & NW Africa, E Australia & Tasmania. Two species are native to Oregon.
Characteristics: About 25 species of shrubs, small trees & perennial herbs. Flowers are small & white or pink, held in flat or round clusters. Bloom is in mid-late spring. Black, red or white fruit follows. Leaves are deciduous, compound & opposite – they have a feathery look & come in many colors; green, white & green, gold & green, gold, purple. Stems are thick, solid & covered in dots (lenticels).
Size: In the Pacific Northwest, plants grow fast, mature around 8-12' tall & wider. Plants as large as 20' are common in their native habitats.
Culture: Sun to part shade – full sun for best fruit production. Moist soil, drought tolerant once established – still appreciate a nice deep drink in August.
Problems: We haven't observed pests or diseases on ours. Plants can grow larger than anticipated & are difficult to remove, so plan ahead & allow appropriate space.
We are particularly lucky to host two species of native Elderberry: Sambucus caerulea & Sambucus racemosa. To read more about these species see our feature on the Native Sambucus.