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Common elderberry

Leaves and flowers of common elderberry.

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.

Botanical name:

Sambucus canadensis

All common names:

Common elderberry, elderberry

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Screen

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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Occasional drought,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Road salt

Seasons of Interest:

  • early summer,
  • midsummer,
  • late summer

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Broad,
  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate,
  • Fast

More Information:

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
Often short-lived.

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

C-Value: 1
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.

Location of Sambucus canadensis (Common elderberry) at the Arboretum