How to Recognize an Elderberry Plant


Elderberry, known botanically as genus Sambucus, is a flowering and fruiting shrub related to the honeysuckle. Ripe elderberry fruits have been used for internal and external in medicinal preparations for hundred of years, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center website. Elderberry is thought to pay a role in reducing swelling in mucous membranes and can often be found in cough preparations. Most of the plant tissues, save the ripe berries, are highly toxic, however, and should not be consumed without careful processing. Elderberry can be identified in the landscape by bloom, fruit and foliage.

Step 1

Look for a large shrub or small, low tree, roughly 12 feet in height, with multiple short trunks that form a loose, spreading fountain shape. Elderberry leaves will be compound and 6 to 11 inches in length, with 5 to 11 ovoid leaflets on each leaf. They are deep green on the surface and paler green on the reverse and have serrated margins.

Step 2

Identify elderberry by clusters of small white flowers that appear on the shrub in the summer. The clustered flower head can be as large as 8 inches in diameter.

Step 3

Find elderberry fruit by its small, perfectly round, deep purple to black berries borne in clusters that dangle from the branches in late summer and fall. The berries contain seeds, are laden with juice and measure just an 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter.

Step 4

Classify an elderberry plant by the smooth brown of the trunk bark and the silvery to warm gray color of the young branch and twig bark.


  • Virginia Tech University: American elderberry Caprifoliaceae Sambucus nigra spp
  • USDA Plant Database Profile: Sambucus
  • University of Maryland Medical Center: Elderberry
Keywords: look of elderberries, identify elderberry fruit, recognize elderberry shrub

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An omni-curious communications professional, Dena Kane has more than 17 years of experience writing and editing content for online publications, corporate communications, business clients, industry journals, as well as film and broadcast media. Kane studied political science at the University of California, San Diego.