American black elderberry, well known in the herbal medicine world, is an excellent example of a mutually beneficial specimen for a backyard habitat. The medium height and vigorous branching growth make this ideal as a privacy screen, and the pollinators will appreciate the nectar available in the bountiful white flower clusters which bloom mid-summer.
The dark blue-black berries are a huge draw for birds as well as humans! In fact, there are many ways humans can use Elderberry, from steeping the blossoms into tea and tinctures, to transforming the berries into jams, jellies, and herbal syrups, thought to be a remedy for the common cold and flu.
While individual Elderberry shrubs are relatively short-lived, new shrubs are readily formed from the suckering roots. Jasmin notes that the dead stems and branches of S. nigra/canadensis are used by cavity nesting bees. From Xerces Society: "Cavity nesting bees find an existing tunnel in the form of a hole in dead wood or the hollow stems of certain plants. They create brood chambers starting at the back of the tunnel and working their way to the front, sealing each chamber as they go with mud or bits of plant material. Cavity nesting bees will make nests in the dried stems and twigs from previous years’ growth of raspberries, Joe Pye weed and Sambucus (spp)".
Use: The cooked fruit is edible and can be used in pancakes, baked goods, and jam. Well know for elderberry syrup, click here for a how-to.
photo 1 courtesy of Dan Wilder
ECO-TYPE: some local eco-type, some grown from seed collected in New Hampshire. Started by New Hampshire State Forest Nursery.
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Sambucus nigra/canadensis (Black elderberry)
SIZE: 1 gallon pot type: shrub sun needs: full sun, part sun/part shade water needs: Moist to average soil height: 6-12' plant spacing: space 3'-5' apart bloom time: June, July, August bloom color: white
edible parts: berries after drying or cooking, flowers in beverages or fritters salt tolerant. Some salt exposure should not be fatal to the plant but some leaf burning may still occur.