European Black Elder - WWC Archives

The European Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) is a species complex of elder native to most of Europe , northwest Africa southwest Asia, and western North America.

It is most commonly called Elder, Elderberry, Black Elder, Common Elder, or Elder Bush. It grows in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations.


It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 4–6 m (rarely to 10 m) tall. The bark, light grey when young, changes to a coarse grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10–30 cm long, pinnate with five to seven (rarely nine) leaflets, the leaflets 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin.

The hermaphrodite flowers are borne in large corymbs 10–25 cm diameter in mid summer, the individual flowers white, 5–6 mm diameter, with five petals; they are pollinated by flies.

The fruit is a dark purple to black berry 3–5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in the late autumn; they are an important food for many fruit-eating birds, notably Blackcaps.

Wildlife valueEdit

Elder rates as fair to good forage for wild game such as mule deer, elk, sheep, and small non-game birds. It is classified as nesting habitat for many birds, including hummingbirds, warblers, and vireos.

It is also good cover for large and small mammals alike.

Elder is cited as a poisonous plant to mammals and as a weed in certain habitats. All parts of the plant except for the flowers and ripe berries (but including the ripe seeds) are poisonous.