Sunday, June 5, 2022



The elderberry shrubs near me are having a great year – big growth, loaded with flowers, and apparently spared from the utility contractors’ plans for 2022. Elderberry reminds me of that aunt you’d visit who dressed in a comfortable, eclectic caftan with oversized jewelry, who was always happy to see you and had a great selection of sweet treats. It is a comfortable, welcoming, and rewarding large native shrub for insects, birds, and humans.

Tiny flowers in a cluster (cyme)
Elderberries fill up a space!

Using the latest Flora of the Southeastern United States, I am glad to see our native species is back to being Sambucus canadensis; it was briefly treated as S. nigra ssp. canadensis. The Flora authors have it classified as part of the Viburnaceae family which it shares with Viburnum. It was previously classified as part of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). The Flora suggests that species canadensis may one day be further divided into two varieties, with var. canadensis in most of the state and var. laciniata in south Georgia.

Both Sambucus and Viburnum have oppositely arranged leaves but elderberry is distinguished by having compound leaves. Both genera also have cymose inflorescences composed of numerous tiny white flowers that can each turn into a berry, thus creating a large amount of fruit (either for humans or birds).

Plate-sized inflorescences and compound leaves

Elderberries need a large space but I have seen people prune them to a narrower, more upright form. The deer keep mine, which were here when I moved in, from ever getting above knee height unfortunately. I hope one day to have a place for them to thrive. On roadsides, they thrive in moist low areas like ditches. These photos are from a roadside near me; you can see they are under powerlines so every few years the utility contractors knock them back. Thankfully, they always return.

Low, damp roadsides are perfect (and much better with native shrubs)

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