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The American Elderberry

By Kerrie B. Badertscher, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Horticulture

This native shrub, American Elder or Sambucus canadensis, is grown for its fruit (for use in jellies, pies or wine) or its use in landscapes for wildlife habitat. Elderberries are both drought- and cold-tolerant, adapt to almost any soil type and most drainage conditions and have few pests. They grow 6 to 12 feet high in an oval or rounded shape. The white flower clusters are generally 6 to 10 inches in diameter and are showy with a nice fragrance.

The fruit, which is seedy and tart but high in vitamin C, is a smooth berry measuring three-sixteenths-inch in diameter growing in broad flat clusters. The deep purple to black berries ripen in early August to late September and are a treat for birds and squirrels.

american elder bloom (30608 bytes)    american elder fruit (34122 bytes)    american elder foliage (19521 bytes)    american elder fall foliage (22215 bytes)

White Flower Clusters

Black Berries


Fall Foliage

It's best to plant in early spring using bare rootstock or rooted cuttings. Once it's growing, cultivate carefully because the root system is shallow and can be easily damaged. Do not confuse related species Sambucus pubens, the Scarlet Elder, with the American Elder since all plant parts of the Scarlet Elder are poisonous. Flowers and berries are the only edible plant part of the American elder (remove all stem material).

Photos: Judy Sedbrook


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Date last revised: 01/05/2010