American Black ElderberrySambucus canadensis
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Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The American Black Elderberry is a medium-sized deciduous shrub native to much of North America. It has attractive divided leaves of light green, which turn yellow in fall. It grows to about 10 feet tall and wide, but can be kept smaller with pruning. Clusters of white flowers, up to a foot across, grow in early summer. These are fragrant and attract butterflies and pollinators. By late summer or early fall these become heads of purple-black juicy berries. Both flowers and berries can be made into alcoholic drinks, and the berries make delicious jellies and baked goods. Easily grown, even in wet areas, and ideal for cottage gardens, wild gardens and self-sufficient gardening. It is self-pollinating and doesn’t need a second bush to produce a full crop.
Plant the American Black Elderberry in full sun for the best blooms and berries, in any soil, from ordinary garden soil to wet conditions and beside water. It will grow in acid soil and slightly alkaline soil. Generally free of pests or diseases and not seriously troubled by deer. Prune in early spring to encourage new shoots, remove old branches and keep a neater profile. All parts except for the flowers and ripe berry flesh are mildly toxic.
Current trends in gardening include growing native plants and planting food crops. You can do both, and enjoy an ornamental shrub too, when you plant the American Black Elderberry. It comes from right here, so it isn’t some invasive alien plant, and you can do so much with both the fruit and the flowers. The black fruits can be turned into jellies or jams, or used fresh in pancakes, muffins and pies. The flowers are used to make natural wines, including delicious ‘elderflower champagne’, and the fruit too can be made into alcoholic drinks. Wildlife love it, from butterflies and bees to birds, who not only eat the fruit, but nest in it. In the garden it’s an attractive medium-sized shrub for a casual or cottage look. Heck, you can even make flutes and whistles from the stems. Grow it among your shrubs, or in a corner of your vegetable garden. Use it to edge natural woodlands and by water – it grows well in wet areas. Easy to grow and fast-growing, this is what wildflower gardening should look like.
The American Black Elderberry is a medium-sized deciduous shrub, forming a rounded upright bush around 10 feet tall, and about 8 feet wide. Pruning can keep it significantly smaller. The stems are light brown, with thick, ridged bark on older branches, and small knobby bumps on younger ones. The leaves are large, but divided into 5, 7 or sometimes 9 leaflets, each about 4 inches long. They are light green, turning yellow in fall. In summer flat heads of tiny white, fragrant flowers are produced, 8 to 12 inches across. These quickly mature by late summer or early fall into clusters of berries, first green and then purple-black and juicy. This plant is self-pollinating and just one bush gives a full crop of berries. All parts of the plant, except for the flowers and ripe berries, are toxic, containing cyanide. The seeds are toxic too, so it is best to make jellies and not to consume too many unstrained berries. Jellies and wines are completely safe and the overall toxicity is low.
Grow the American Black Elderberry among your shrubs, especially in a cottage-style garden or natural planting. Use it to edge woodlands, or to separate the vegetable garden. Grow it in transitional areas between a more formal garden and wild places. With regular pruning it can be kept neat, but unpruned plants can become large and ungainly – but the berries still taste as good.
The American Black Elderberry will grow well in zone 3, and all through the country into zone 9 as well.
Plant this shrub in full sun or partial shade – more sun will produce more flowers and berries. It grows easily in just about any soil, including heavy clays and lighter sands. It will grow in strongly acidic soils, in neutral soils and in slightly alkaline soils too. It thrives in wet ground, so plant it in low-lying areas and beside water. Established plants have good drought tolerance, but benefit from some water in long periods of dryness. For bigger crops, mulch with organic material in fall.
Generally free of pests or diseases, except for a few aphids from time to time. Deer resistant, although they may graze on a few leaves or flowers. Birds will quickly take the berries if they aren’t harvested. Best pruned in spring – cut hard and remove older branches completely, to encourage a dense, bushy form. May send up new plants from the roots, forming a thicket, which is fine in wild areas.
The American Black Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, was once called Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis. It grows across an enormous range throughout the east, from Canada to Florida and west almost to the Rockies. It is found in wetlands, woodland edges and along streams. The name is from the Greek sambuce, which was a wind instrument – you can make flutes and whistles from the hollow stems.
Combining beauty, native plants and food crops is a sure-fire winner – and you can do exactly that with the American Black Elderberry. No wild garden should be without it, and neither should any garden interested in growing your own food and drinks. Although often sold in ornamental varieties, the wild plant is not often available, so take advantage of our offer, and order now, while stocks last.