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Black Elder Sambucus nigra

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
sam-BYOO-kus NY-gruh
This plant has medium severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Black elder is a large multi-stemmed deciduous shrub or small tree in the Viburnaceae family native to Europe.  The Latin name sambuca means harp and nigra means black referring to the color of the fruits. It can grow at a rapid pace through root suckering to 8 to 20 feet tall and wide. 

Plant in moist, high organic matter, well-drained soil though it tolerates a wide range of soils including heavy clay.  Full sun to partial shade though it flowers and fruits best in the full sun.  This shrub grows rapidly through suckering and through self-seeding forms colonies easily so immediately prune back any unwanted suckers. 

The leaves are large and deeply divided and are distinctive for their unpleasant fragrance when crushed.  The white flowers with a musky fragrance appear in the summer attracting butterflies and are followed by black fruits. The attractive black fruits are edible and are used for making pies, wines, and jellies as well as being forage for birds.  The fruits are not considered as delicious as the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) Increased fruit yield is achieved by planting multiple cultivars in the same area.

It does best in a background planting, as an informal hedge and with enough room to naturalize.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Spider mites and aphids are occasional problems.  Cankers, leaf spot, and powdery mildew do occur.  Branches are susceptible to wind and winter snow breakage.  Plants grow quickly and aggressively and it can be weedy in some regions. 

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Sun to Shade Garden
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Albovariegata'
    Cream variegation around leaves
  • 'Black Lace'
    Dark deeply divided leaves
  • 'Laced Up'
  • 'Marginata'
    Creamy margins of leaves
  • Variegata
'Albovariegata', 'Black Lace', 'Laced Up', 'Marginata', Variegata
Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#small tree#fragrant flowers#wildlife plant#weedy#nectar plant#showy fruits#food source wildlife#fast growing#multistemmed#weak wood#background planting#edible leaves#black fruits#naturalized area#glossy fruits#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#malodorous#wind damage prone
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Albovariegata'
    Cream variegation around leaves
  • 'Black Lace'
    Dark deeply divided leaves
  • 'Laced Up'
  • 'Marginata'
    Creamy margins of leaves
  • Variegata
'Albovariegata', 'Black Lace', 'Laced Up', 'Marginata', Variegata
Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#small tree#fragrant flowers#wildlife plant#weedy#nectar plant#showy fruits#food source wildlife#fast growing#multistemmed#weak wood#background planting#edible leaves#black fruits#naturalized area#glossy fruits#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#malodorous#wind damage prone
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Sambucus
    Species:
    nigra
    Family:
    Viburnaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    This plant has been used in traditional medicine.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Europe
    Wildlife Value:
    Flowers attract butterflies. Fruits attract birds.
    Edibility:
    Flowers and blue-black berries. Flowers are used to make wines and cordials and the berries can be made into jam and syrup.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 10 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 8 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Multi-stemmed
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    High
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    6-feet-12 feet
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Blue
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Lustrous glossy black fruits 3/8" across in late summer to fall.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Cream/Tan
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Umbel
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Tiny yellowish white to cream flowers on large 5" to 8" flat-topped umble-like cymes wide in summer. Flowers smell musky.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Dark green pinnately compound leaves reach 10" long with 3 to 9 serrate ovate leaflets that are 5" long. Unpleasant odor when crushed
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Naturalized Area
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Edible Garden
    Rain Garden
    Design Feature:
    Hedge
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Songbirds
    Problems:
    Malodorous
    Weak Wood
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Medium
    Poison Symptoms:
    feeling ill, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    cyanide-inducing glycosides
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Leaves
    Roots
    Seeds
    Stems