Sambucus canadensis (Common Elderberry)

Plant Info
Also known as: Common Black Elder, Canadian Black Elderberry, American Elderberry
Family:Adoxaceae (Moschatel)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist; floodplains, wet ditches, thickets, woodland edges, marshland edges, meadows
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:4 to 13 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Flat to dome-shaped clusters 3 to 10 inches in diameter at the tips of branches. Flowers are about ¼ inch across, white with 5 rounded petals and 5 creamy white-tipped stamens surrounding a pale, round ovary in the center, a tiny 3 to 5-parted stigma at the top. Flower stalks are smooth and light green, turning purplish in fruit.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are opposite, compound in groups of 5 to 11, usually 7. Leaflets are generally lance-elliptic, 2 to 5 inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide, with a long taper to a pointed tip, finely serrated edges, and a short stalk. The upper surface is hairless to sparsely hairy along the midvein, the lower is paler in color and variously hairy along major veins, sometimes hairless. The lowest leaflet may be lobed in 3 parts. Leaf stalks are grooved on the upper side with a few fine hairs in the groove.

[photo of bark with shallow fissures] Twigs are hairless, yellowish green with a white pith and scattered, large lenticels (pores), the bark turning brownish gray the second year and the pith remaining white. Older bark is brownish gray with shallow fissures, becoming rough with thin, plate-like scales. Stems are multiple from the base, rarely exceed 3 inches in diameter, are typically arching, suckering, spreading by rhizomes and may form small colonies.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a purplish-black berry less than ¼ inch diameter, containing 3 to 5 stone-like seeds. Flower stalks turn purplish as fruit develops, the clusters eventually drooping from the weight.


Considered a pioneer species and not long-lived, Common Elderberry performs best with low competition from other woody plants and in full sun to light shade. Birds love the fruits and it's a battle of wits to harvest them before the birds get them all, and before the rock-hard seeds become too large. Timed right, it makes great pie, among other things. It blooms much later than the related Red-berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa), which is more common as a woodland understory shrub, has more pyramidal flower clusters, orange-brown pith in 2-year-old branches, and, as the common name suggests, has bright red berries. Its berries are inedible and mature when Common Elderberry is just starting to bloom. Sambucus canadensis is often listed as synonym Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis, considered by some to be a European counterpart and by others as the accepted name, with S. canadensis the synonym. The debate goes on. There may be several varieties of S. canadensis—information is rather sketchy and, again, there does not appear to be a consensus—but var. canadensis, characterized by hairs on the leaflet veins but not the surface, is found in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Pat W - Hy 169 between St Peter and Mankato
on: 2015-05-24 16:57:54

I saw these blooming over 4th of July 2014 which was very confusing for me as I knew that my Elderberry(S. racemosa) up North were long past blooming. It was only after finding this page did I realize they were different species. Thanks for the great web site.

Posted by: Leo - In the road ditch along hwy 61 N of Beroun MN
on: 2015-07-20 22:35:30

I have photos I can send to verify if needed.

Posted by: H Buss - Dakota County
on: 2017-02-23 12:51:36

I have several of these in a wet, low lying area in my woods. My son and I think the pith has such a soft texture.

Posted by: David - Minneapolis
on: 2017-07-23 16:21:21

I am trying to find a nursery that sells common elderberry bushes. Do you know what nurseries sell the elderberry bush/shrub?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-07-23 16:57:13

David, we do not track who sells what so see "Where to buy native seeds and plants" that is shown on most pages of this website. If none of those vendors carry it perhaps one knows who does.

Posted by: Steve K - Elk River
on: 2017-07-24 10:25:22

Prairie Restoration sells potted elderberry shrubs.

Posted by: Arlene H
on: 2017-11-22 19:18:24

Umm... Aren't these poisonous?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-11-23 04:37:43

Arlene, absolutely not - they're delicious. You might be thinking of some other berry-producing shrub but I don't know what.

Posted by: kristin driessen - Owatonna
on: 2018-06-27 12:22:01

This is growing in my wooded area among 100's of other things Im trying to identify. I also with Red Elderberry, but that blooms in spring smaller blossoms and leaves.

Posted by: Joseph Capecchi - Kanabec county
on: 2018-07-05 10:49:26

I found this growing along the garage at our lake home on Knife Lake

Posted by: Dan P - Washington County
on: 2018-08-03 13:14:38

We have several of these on or near our property. They are late bloomers. When can we expect it to fruit? The umbrels have long since gone brown and rather hard looking.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-08-03 13:20:59

Dan, we have several on our property. The fruit is mostly green now (Aug 3) but some is just starting to turn purple.

Posted by: Scott.H - Faribault
on: 2018-09-02 20:53:49

I have found several berrys this year along edges of a park and river as well on edge of river in Kenyan.

Posted by: Jess - Bemidji
on: 2018-09-10 19:34:18

In the notes section of the information it says that the berries are (inedible) in otherwords not ok to eat. I sugjest a correction as not to confuse people.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-09-10 20:26:43

Jess, I think you misread the comments. It's red-berried elder that has inedible berries, that are ripe when common elderberry is just starting to flower.

Posted by: Randie Waltz - Mower
on: 2018-10-21 20:39:41

I haven't found any yet, but in regards to the comment above about being poisonous, yes. The mature berries are safe to eat, especially when cooked, but the bud, flowers, stems, leaves, root are not. produces under certain conditions hydrocyanic acid.

Posted by: Emily Grimes - Anoka
on: 2019-02-04 08:29:30

Looking for tips on where to find wild sources this summer.

Posted by: Brian Blom - Deerwood
on: 2019-07-24 16:08:33

Booyah! I'll be making elderberry wine and jelly this fall. I found a nice stash of elderberries a long a creek in Crow Wing county. Just need to beat the bears and the birds.

Posted by: Virginia Erickson - Sherburn County
on: 2020-03-03 09:40:18

Does anyone know of these growing in the wild in this area? I have seen them in Isanti County, but have moved and would like to find them where I am at? Thank You

Posted by: luciearl - owatonna
on: 2020-05-08 07:32:47

For people wanting to buy. They had them available at the annual tree sales at Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District. They may be available and your nearest SWCD.

Posted by: Adele Krusz - South St. Louis County
on: 2020-08-06 14:08:06

Do you know if the flowers of common elderberry can be used for cordial like the flowers of sambucus nigra? Thanks!

Posted by: Brett W. - Sherburne County
on: 2021-09-13 21:46:45

One robust shrub in a long a wetland in Uncas that I've kept an eye on the last few years. Still producing fruit as of this past weekend.

Posted by: Janet Van Sloun, NR Specialist - City of Minnetonka
on: 2022-08-12 22:27:51

Minnetonka resident called with a concern about poison hemlock in his wetland. After much conversation and concern it is wonderful to give news on a great miss-identification. Your notes about synonym Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis, debates and sketchy information is very helpful when answering folks' questions.

Posted by: Mary Denison - Minneapolis
on: 2022-09-14 00:36:11

I've never planted or seen American elderberry but would like to plant some. What is the best way to start and what time of year should I plant them? It's currently mid September. Do they spread like other berries? Are they compatible with black berries or raspberries?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-09-14 00:45:37

Mary, if you purchase elderberry from a reputable native plant nursery, they can tell you everything you need to know about growing it. Note that it suckers so you will need to manage containment in the future.

Posted by: Lynda Backman - Becker county
on: 2023-06-21 08:43:29

We have a bush that looks like elderberry..berries are bright red is on the Forrest edge of some property where we planted some white pine

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-06-21 12:26:27
Posted by: Pat W - Brainerd Northland Arboretum
on: 2024-05-06 20:54:02

There are a few mature plants growing near the ponds. If you collect a few berries in September, remove the seeds and place them in the refrigerator a few months. Then plant outdoors in a protected bed before winter. In Spring there will be a copious amount of seedlings. Easy as pie!

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