American black elderberry (Samucus canadensis) is among the native shrubs seen most frequently in our community. In Beverly Shores, you will find it growing in sunny, moist areas and ditches. Large, sweet-smelling umbrella-like clusters of white flowers appear in early summer. These flowers develop into clusters of fruit that ripen gradually from pink to purple-black. Elderberry leaves are compound and paired (or opposite) on the stem, with five to nine leaflets. Elderberry grows to a height of 5 to 12 feet and can be quite bushy. It also can spread by root suckers.
Elderberry does well in full to part sun and, though in the wild it generally grows in wet areas, it will tolerate dryer locations in gardens. If you are planning a rain garden, elderberry is an excellent choice. Since birds lover elderberry fruits, choose a planting location away from walkways or driveways that might be stained by the fruit.
Elderberries were once very popular for jams, jellies, pies and even wine (think “Arsenic and Old Lace”). Now they have found there way into the herbal medicine market. Black chokeberries are also planted extensively throughout the parking areas, where they are performing well despite the clay soil, high pH, and intense heat of those exposed sites.
Elderberry is readily available in native plant nurseries or by mail order or Internet purchase. But be careful when purchasing elderberry. Avoid European species or varieties when shopping. Such horticultural favorites like “Black Lace” are derived from the European elderberry, Sambucus nigra. This species has already escaped in a number of counties in Northwest Indiana. Though it does not appear to be considered invasive yet, why take chances when a fine native species is available? The scientific name will tell you which kind of elderberry you are looking at. The native species is >Sambucus canadensis but can also be called S. nigra var. canadensis. The elderberry varieties “Adams” and “Johns,” boasting larger fruit, are both derived from our native species. (If fruit harvesting is of interest to you, it is best to have several plants growing nearby for cross pollination.
If you have questions about elderberry or other native or non-native plants, don’t hesitate to contact Terry Bonace (email@example.com), Candice Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Bill Schaudt (email@example.com) for assistance. Also please explore our website, www.bserg.org, for further information on invasive plants and native replacements.