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.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area,
- North America
- Mixed border,
- Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Acid soil,
- Alkaline soil,
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Occasional drought,
- Occasional flooding,
- Road salt
Season of Interest:
- Early summer,
- Mid summer,
- Late summer
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
Size & form
A large, sprawling native shrub reaching up to 10 feet high, forming large colonies.
Tree & Plant Care
Full sun to part shade in well-drained soil
Thrives in acid or alkaline soils
Suckering stems form colonies, prune to maintain size
Disease, pests, and problems
Leaf spots, cankers, borers, powdery mildew, spider mites, and aphids
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Tolerant of temporary wet sites, salt, and black walnut toxicity
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to eastern U.S.., including Illinois and Chicago area
Common along wood edges, fence rows, roadsides and along small streams.
Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife
Many birds and pollinators
Bark color and texture
Stout young stems are tannish-white with raised lenticels. Older stems develop fissures along trunk. Pith is a solid and white.
No terminal buds.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Opposite, pinnately compound leaves up to 12 inches long with 4 to 6 pairs of leaflets with a larger terminal leaf. Leaflets are smooth, ovate to elliptical with an extended tip, margins toothed toward base of leaf. Leaves emerge in early spring, dark green in summer and yellow-green in fall.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Large, flat-topped, 4 to 12 inch diameter cluster made up of numerous small, white flowers in mid-June. Very fragrant and showy.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Clusters of purple-black, berry-like fruit (drupe) at end of branches. Juice is used to make jams, jellies and wine.