Content Detail

European elderberry is a large, multi-stemmed, rounded shrub. Plants are colony forming and best used for naturalizing in moist to wet landscapes. The flat-topped, white, fragrant flowers appear in early summer and are followed by clusters of purple fruit in mid-to-late summer. Many of the newer cultivars have purple foliage.

  • Family (English) Elderberry
  • Family (botanic) Adoxaceae; formerly Caprifoliaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Non-native
  • 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), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones 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, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, Pink, White
  • Shape or form Arching, Broad, Irregular, Mounded, Round, Thicket-forming
  • Growth rate Fast

Native geographic location and habitat:

This shrub is native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa.

Attracts birds and butterflies:

Large cluster of juicy purple berries attract songbirds and other wildlife. 

Bark color and texture:

The bark is stout.  Tan colored stems have raised lenticels. The inner pith is white and fills the stem. Older bark develops ridges.

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

Leaves are compound, opposite, and finely toothed, composed of 5 to 11 leaflets. They are medium green with lighter undersides and in the fall they turn yellow.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Flowers are numerous, tiny white flowers in a flat-topped, rounded terminal cluster. Flower heads can be 6 to 10 inches wide and fragrant.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Showy dark purple fruit clusters grow at the end of stems, often 6 to 10 inches wide. Fruit is used for making wine and jelly.

Plant care:

This is a large, 10 to 12 feet high, multi-stemmed shrub forming large colonies. Cultivars listed are smaller. Annual pruning will keep this plant in shape when used in shrub borders and naturalized areas. Can be cut to ground to rejuvenate and should be planted with multiple shrubs for best fruiting potential.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Leaf spots, borers, canker diseases, and verticillium wilt are possible problems for this shrub.

Black Beauty™ elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Gerda’):

This variety has dark purple leaves, pink flowers, black clusters of fruit, and grows 6 to 8 feet high and wide.

Black Lace™ elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’):

This shrub has lacy, fern-textured, dark purple foliage with large 6 inch diameter clusters of pale pink flowers. It grows 6 to 8 feet high and requires full sun to maintain the purple color.

Cutleaf elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Laciniata’):

This variety has finely dissected green leaves, clusters of white flowers, and grows 6 to 8 feet high and wide.

Instant Karma™ elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Sanivalk’):

This is a variegated elderberry with blue green leaves and creamy white margins. The plant flowers white and grows 6 to 8 feet high and wide.

Lemony Lace™ European red elder (Sambucus racemosa ‘SMNSRD4’): 

This is a bright golden, cut-leaf elderberry with good sunburn resistance. It reaches 3 to 5 feet high and wide. New growth starts out reddish, but changes to lemony yellow with white flowers and red fruit.


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