Black Lace ElderberrySambucus nigra 'Eva' (PP# 15,575)
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Sambucus nigra 'Eva' (PP# 15,575)
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Black Lace® Elderberry is a beautiful shrub that combines graceful, deeply-divided ferny foliage with a rich deep-purple to near-black color. Use it for powerful color contrasts with lighter foliage and as a great garden accent. In early summer it has large flat heads of pale pink scented blossoms, and these are followed by deep-purple berries in late summer and fall. Both the flowers and berries can be used for refreshing drinks. It grows into a bush 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, but it can easily be kept more compact with an annual hard pruning.
Grow the Black Lace® Elderberry in full sun or light shade. Too much shade will turn the leaves greenish. This reliable plant will grow in any garden soil, preferring moister soils, but drought tolerant once established. It has no problems with pests or diseases and deer usually ignore it. Prune in spring – you can cut this plant down almost to the ground to keep it smaller and more compact. The death of some branches over the winter in zone 4 is normal.
Some garden plants are very similar to the way they look in the wild, but others of course only exist in our gardens. Some arrive completely transformed, turning from a not very attractive wild plant with awkward habits into something graceful and striking. For a genuine ‘ugly duckling to swan’ transformation, look no further than the Black Lace® Elderberry, which began as a common plant of woods and rough places and became a ballerina in black, twirling and pirouetting in our beds, flashing pink flowers and black berries from her lacy skirts. Yet she kept her toughness and remained easy to grow and adaptable to most gardens.
Everyone adores the Black Lace Elderberry, which grows rapidly into an upright shrub 6 to 8 feet tall, and just as wide. The stems are thick and sturdy, growing upright and then sending out spreading side-shoots. New shoots are green, turning purple in the first year, and after that becoming silver-gray, with noticeable lighter bumps on the surface, called lenticels. When bare in winter the stems make a striking feature of visual interest with a bold angular architecture. The foliage, though, is the main feature of this plant. Each leaf is almost a foot long and 8 inches wide, but it is divided deeply into 7 lobes with each lobe then further divided into 5 lobes. The lobes are narrow, with irregular edges, so that each leaf is like a hand-made piece of lace. The botanists call it ‘laciniate’, which means ‘deeply cut’, and they are certainly correct.
The leaves are a rich, deep purple that is near black, and they hold that color all season and into fall. With many leaves covering the stems we see a vision of black lace, like a Spanish lady’s mantilla, rising out of our garden beds. In the garden this striking color is best seen against lighter colors, such as the green of plants, gold and white foliage, or against gray stone and white walls or fences. This plant should be used to create a powerful color contrast, so always plant it where it will show well. A great companion for it is the Lemony Lace Elderberry, whose bright yellow leaves really show off the dark purple of this plant. The foliage is beautiful, but the display of this plant doesn’t end there.
In early summer the stems are capped with a round head of several hundred pale-pink flowers. These heads are 8 inches across, and have a sweet, honey fragrance with a hint of lemon. They attract many insects and they are a valuable food for local insect populations. A bush in bloom – with the pink blossoms set against the black foliage – is a wonderful sight. The blossoms are followed by clusters of berries, which are also black, and these ripen in late summer and early fall, adding further interest. This is a shrub that just keeps on giving, and if you are interested in gathering food from the garden, the flowers are used to make traditional country drinks and ‘champagne’ and the berries make lovely dark-red sweet wines and preserves. Berries should be fully ripe, and the foliage is not edible.
The Black Lace Elderberry grows best in full sun or light partial shade. Too much shade will soften the leaf color and introduce greenish tones to it. This bush is a vigorous grower, and it thrives in moist to normal garden soils of all types. It grows well in damper spots, and only very dry and sandy soils are not so suitable. Once established this plant is moderately drought tolerant too, although it grows best in cooler zones, with a steady supply of water. Although it will grow to 6 or 8 feet tall, it can be kept much smaller by spring pruning. It is normal in zone 4 for some of the branches to die in winter, but new strong buds arise from the base, and you soon have a 3 to 4-foot shrub making a rich mound of foliage. In any area you can cut this plant back hard in spring, if you want it more compact. For a larger bush just trim back to the first strong buds on the stems, removing thin, weak branches and one or two of the oldest branches close to the base, to encourage strong new growth. Plants regularly pruned hard will probably not flower as much as lightly-pruned bushes. Pests and diseases are not normally an issue, and deer usually leave this bush alone.
Unusual forms of the European elderberry, Sambucus nigra, have been grown in gardens for many years. This plant grows wild across Europe and in eastern north America, where it is often found on the edges of woods, and on waste ground. For gardens plants with colored foliage and unusual leaves have been selected. Forms with purple foliage are sometimes called ‘forma porphyrophylla’ and there are several of these. Forms with deeply divided leaves are called ‘forma laciniata’, but the Black Lace Elderberry is the first plant to combine both features. It was created in a breeding program at Horticulture Research International, East Malling, Kent, in England. Beginning in 1988 Kenneth Tobut crossed forms with either purple leaves or cut leaves over several generations. Ten years later, in 1998, he had what he wanted – a purple-leaf plant with divided, ferny foliage. After further testing the plant was named ‘Eva’ and patented in 2005. It is sold with the registered trademark name of Black Lace®. This great plant has won the coveted Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in England, meaning you can rely on its quality and beauty. Unique plants like this never stay in our facility for long, so order now, while we still have plants available – and don’t forget to add the Lemony Lace Elderberry as the perfect companion for it.