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Sambucus nigra ‘Aureomarginata’, photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters
Sambucus nigra ‘Aureomarginata’, photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters

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Zones 2-7, 14-17
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Full, Partial
Regular Water
Raw fruit of some types can cause gastric distress

Sambucus nigra

Black Elder, European Elder

Deciduous, Edible fruit, Shrubs, Trees


Grow these large, airy deciduousshrubs for their whitespring flowers and colorful summerberries. In big gardens,they make effective summerscreens or windbreaks. To keepshrubby types dense, prunehard in dormant season, removingolder stems and headingback last year’s growth to a fewinches. Overgrown plants canbe cut to the ground. Types thatgrow into trees need early trainingto single or multiple trunks.

The various elder specieshave bright to dark green leavesand near-black, blue, or red berries.Fruit of red-berried speciesand of S. nigra caerulea cancause gastric upset in humansif consumed raw in large quantities.(Red-fruited forms of black- andblue-berried species arenot poisonous.) Species namesare presently in flux.

Sambucus nigra

Shrub ortree. Nativeto Europe, North Africa andAsia. Shrubby, upright growth to20–30 ft. tall and wide. Eachleaf is up to 10 in. long anddivided into many oval, pointedleaflets. Scented white flowerscome in flat-topped, 5–8-in.-wide clusters in late spring orearly summer. Purple-black berriesare less than 1/2 in. across;for maximum fruit production,plant two different varieties.‘Aurea’, 10–20 ft. tall andbroad, has yellow new growthmaturing to yellow-green. ‘GuinchoPurple’, to 15 ft. tall and10 ft. wide, has green foliagethat matures to deep purple,then turns red in fall; purpleflower stems bear pink budsthat open to pink-tinged whiteblossoms. ‘Black Beauty’(‘Gerda’) is similar but retainsits black color throughout thegrowing season.

Several varieties grow 6–8 ft.tall and wide: ‘Aureomarginata’,green leaves edged in yellow;‘Laciniata’, very finely cut green foliage; and white-fruited ‘Marginata’(‘Albovariegata’, ‘Variegata’),green leaves bordered increamy white.

Two smaller selections (4–5 ft.tall and wide) are ‘Madonna’,bearing green leaves that arevariegated in light green to chartreusewhen young, and arevariegated in cream, yellow, orgray-green when mature; and‘Pulverulenta’, with leaves thatunfold white, then mature togreen splashed and striped withwhite.

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