Content Detail

Common elderberry is a large, multi-stemmed, native shrub with showy white flower clusters in mid-summer, followed by juicy, blue-black fruits. Plants are coarse and best used for naturalizing or as a back-of-the-border hedge. Also known as Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis.

  • Family (English) Elderberry
  • Family (botanic) Adoxaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Road salt
  • Season of interest early summer, midsummer, late summer
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, White
  • Shape or form Broad, Multi-stemmed, Round
  • Growth rate Fast, Moderate

Size & form:

A large, sprawling, native shrub reaching up to 10 feet in height and forming large colonies.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 1. Native to the eastern U.S., including the Illinois and Chicago area. Common along wood edges, fence rows, roadsides, and along small streams.

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife:

Many birds and pollinators are attracted to this shrub.

Bark color and texture :

Stout young stems are tannish-white with raised lenticels. Older stems develop fissures along the trunk. Pith is solid and white. It does not have any terminal buds.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Opposite, pinnately compound leaves  are up to 12 inches long with four to six pairs of leaflets and a larger terminal leaf. Leaflets are smooth, ovate to elliptical with an extended tip. Margins are toothed toward the base of  the leaf. Leaves emerge in early spring. They are dark green in summer and yellow-green in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Large, flat-topped, 4 to 12 inch diameter clusters are made up of numerous small, white flowers, blooming in mid-June. Very fragrant and showy.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Clusters of purple-black, berry-like fruit (drupe) at the ends of branches. Juice is used to make jams, jellies, and wine.

Plant care:

Plant in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. Thrives in acid or alkaline soils. Suckering stems form colonies. Prune to maintain size. Often short-lived. 

List of pests, diseases, tolerances and resistance:  

Susceptible to leaf spots, canker diseases, borers, powdery mildew, spider mites, and aphids.  Tolerant of temporary wet sites, salt, and black walnut toxicity.


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