Sambucus canadensis (Common Elderberry)
|Also known as:||Common Black Elder, Canadian Black Elderberry, American Elderberry|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Please visit our sponsors
Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Common Elderberry shrub
- a small colony of Common Elderberry
- fruiting Common Elderberry
- a clump of stems
- 2-year old branch and pith colors
- more leaves, with 9+ leaflets
- fresh Elderberry pie - yum!
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?