Common Elderberry (Canadensis)

The Common Elderberry (Canadensis) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The Common Elderberry (Canadensis) has green foliage and inconspicuous white flowers, with an abuncance of conspicuous blue fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Common Elderberry (Canadensis) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Common Elderberry (Canadensis) will reach up to 7 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 7 feet.

The Common Elderberry (Canadensis) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -28°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

At least 50 species of songbirds, upland game birds, and small mammals relish the fruit of American elder during summer and early fall. White-tailed deer browse the twigs, foliage and fruit during the summer. American elder is outstanding as nesting cover for small birds. During summer, the partial shade under American elder promotes a dense ground cover of grasses and forbs that offers good loafing or feeding areas for broods of young pheasants and quail.

American elder can be used for erosion control on moist sites. It pioneers on some strip-mine spoils and may occasionally be useful for reclamation planting. It is very decorative when in bloom; elder flowers later than most shrubs. Elderberries are also attractive to makers of pies, jellies and wine.

General Characteristics

The American elder is an erect, thicket-forming, somewhat woody shrub, 4-12 feet tall, with smooth yellowish-gray branchlets and white pith. Compound leaves are set oppositely in pairs in a feather-like arrangement. The leaf surface is bright green. The oval to lance-shaped leaflets are up to 6 long and 2 1/2 wide, with finely serrated margins. They are abruptly narrowed at the tip and lopsidedly narrowed or rounded at the base. Leaflets are usually held on short stalks; the terminal leaflet is on a longer stalk. Numerous 1/4 fragrant white flowers, emerge from late June into August. The terminal clusters of flowers, measuring 4-10 across, are broad, flat or slightly rounded and long-stalked. Flowers usually develop in the second-year on older canes, and are arranged in branched clusters of 5.

Fruits ripen from late July into September. They are round, slightly bitter, edible purple-black berries with crimson juice. Each is less than 1/4 across, borne in large clusters. Each berry contains 3-5 small seeds. Seed dispersal occurs from July to October, usually through vigorous ingestion by birds and mammals. There are about 230,000 seeds per pound.

Required Growing Conditions

American elder occupies well-drained, slightly acid soil bordering streams, and in the adjacent bottomlands, but also grows on gray forest soils and muck. This shrub is widespread and abundant. American elder grows best in full sunlight. Once established, elders soon outdistance herbaceous competition. Thickets of elder are replaced by more shade-tolerant species during the later stages of forest succession, but individual plants and small runners will persist under a forest canopy.

American elder is distributed primarily throughout the eastern and midwestern United States.

Cultivation and Care

American elder naturally reproduces from seeds, sprouts, layers, and root suckers. Variable degrees of hard-seededness and embryo dormancy are exhibited. Prior to spring or fall planting, the seed should be scarified with sulfuric acid, also stratification at 36-40 degrees F for two months is required for spring planting. Seedling growth is rather slow during the first year.Elders can also be propagated from 10” to 18” hardwood cuttings taken from vigorous one-year-old canes, each must include three sets of buds. Cuttings may be taken while dormant, placed in moist peat or sphagnum moss, and held in cold storage at approximately 40 degrees F for spring planting. One-year-old seedlings or rooted cuttings are usually large enough for field planting.

General Upkeep and Control

Mulching around each plant will improve seedling survival. Annual pruning will considerably improve fruit yield. Removal of terminal shoots and dead canes will reduce winter-kill and help control elder borers.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) Seedlings or rooted cuttings are available commercially. Horticultural selections or local and regional ecotypes are marketed by nurseries.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 7
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Summer
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -28
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5–7 pH
Precipitation Range 34–34 inches/yr
Planting Density 700–1700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA