Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) also goes by the name American elder and is a shrub found throughout the eastern half of the United States. Elderberry grows in such places as along the borders of swamps and marshes, near retention ponds, next to ditches and in other spots where the ground is wet. Elderberry produces sweet fruit that goes into pies, jams and even wine, with as many as 50 different types of birds eating the berries as well, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website. Identify this shrub by its many characteristics.
Look for a shrub-sized plant that has multiple stems and loses its leaves in the fall. Elderberry grows to between 5 and 12 feet high as a shrub and sometimes taller, up to 20 feet high, which then classifies it as a small tree. Elderberry will have a broad crown with a rounded form and branches that arch out from its stems.
Examine the compound leaves of the elderberry. Elderberry has a leaf composed of a central axis stem that holds from 5 to 11 separate leaflets, each about 2 to 6 inches in length and as wide as 2 inches. Typically, an elderberry has seven leaflets on one leaf, but this number can vary. Look for lance-shaped leaves with serrations along the edges. The upper surface of an elderberry leaflet is a darker green than the bottom surface and the leaves change to a yellow-green shade come fall.
Study the flowers of an elderberry, which bloom in the latter part of spring or first weeks of summer. The flowers are white, fragrant and in clusters with flat tops that are as wide across as 10 inches in some instances.
Inspect the fruit that develops from the flowers. The fruit is what botanists term a drupe, meaning it has a fleshy inner core that contains one or more seeds. Elderberries are only about a quarter inch across, grow in clusters that hang down from the branches and are purple-black in color. Elderberries ripen by mid-September, states the University of Connecticut Plant Database website. Two cultivars of elderberry called Adams and York produce fruit a bit larger and more plentiful than that of the native plants.
Check the bark of elderberry for lenticels, which are raised horizontal lines that appear all over the bark. Elderberry bark is a light gray color mixed with brown and is smooth on the younger specimens. As elderberry matures, this bark gets rougher in texture and develops cracks and fissures.