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Genus Sambucus (Elder, Elderberry)

Sambucus Sambucus nigra Photo/Illustration: Steve Aitken
sam-BOO-kus Common Name: Elder, Elderberry
These herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs are native to woodlands and thickets of widespread temperate and subtropical regions. They are suitable for mixed or shrub borders or for naturalizing in wild areas; cultivars with colored foliage are effective as specimens. Sambucus may be pruned minimally to maintain a healthy framework, but it benefits from hard pruning to restict its size. Cultivars grown for their foliage may be cut back annually to within 2 or 3 buds from a permanent framework. S. canadensis is native to North America.
Noteworthy characteristics: The group of shrubs includes many choice specimens with respect to foliage texture (finely cut) or color (golden, variegated, or deep purple). They produce flat domes of small ivory flowers, which are followed by red, black, or white fruits. The fruits have culinary attributes when cooked, but can cause illness if eaten raw.
Care: Grow in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
Propagation: Sow seed in a cold frame in the fall. Take softwood cuttings in early summer and hardwood cuttings in winter.
Problems: Powdery mildew, canker, dieback, rust, fungal leaf spots, borers, virus diseases.

Species, varieties and cultivars for genus Sambucus

Sambucus canadensis Sambucus canadensis
(American elder, Elderberry)
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Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

A familiar native shrub, American elderberry is commonly seen along streambanks and roadsides and in moist woodlands and thickets throughout eastern North America. It has pinnate leaves with toothed leaflets and small white flowers borne in large flattened clusters in summer. Purple-black, round fruit comes next, attracting wildlife to the garden. Elderberries typically grow to about 12 feet high, but they tolerate pruning to a smaller size. Fruit is edible when cooked.

Sambucus nigra Sambucus nigra
(Black elder, European elder, Elderberry)
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Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Black elder forms an upright and bushy, but somewhat coarse, shrub with toothed green leaves. It bears scented, flattened clusters of white flowers in early summer, which mature into glossy black fruit. It has given rise to many cultivars with notable foliage. Sambucus is a good choice for a quick growing shrub and is suitable for mixed or shrub borders or for naturalizing in wild areas. Birds love the fruits of this genus, which have culinary attributes when cooked, but can cause illness if eaten raw, or if the poisonous seeds are consumed. Contact with leaves may irritate skin.

Sambucus nigra 'Gerda' Sambucus nigra 'Gerda'
(Black Beauty™ elderberry)
(1 user review)
Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Valued for its flowers, foliage, and fruit, Black Beauty™ elderberry is a deciduous shrub that requires regular watering during its first few yearsbut will become more drought tolerant as it becomes established. Areas with moist soil are ideal. Black Beauty™ will grow 8 feet tall if left unpruned, but fairly severe pruning in the first year will keep the plant from looking leggy. Pruning will sacrifice the large pink flowers, but the plant will be much sturdier and have a better habit if you do. The flowers, which bloom in June, are large and have a lemony scent. The foliage is dark and finely cut. Elderberries are edible and can be used to make juice or jelly, if the birds don't get there first. -Teresa Smith, Regional Picks: Northeast, Fine Gardening issue #120

Sambucus nigra 'Madonna' Sambucus nigra 'Madonna'
(Black elder, European elder, Elderberry)
(1 user review)
Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

This choice specimen livens up the garden all season long with its stunning leaves of green splashed with gold. It bears flattened, creamy white flowers that mature into glossy black fruit. It grows more slowly than most elderberries. It makes an attractive specimen.

Sambucus nigra 'Marginata' Sambucus nigra 'Marginata'
(Black elder, European elder, Elderberry, Variegated black elder)
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Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

This vigorous cultivar has attractive dark green leaves with yellow margins that fade to white. In summer, it bears flattened clusters of creamy white flowers which mature in fall to glossy black fruit. Plants grow 10-20 feet tall and wide.

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’
(European red elder, Golden elderberry)
(1 user review)
Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

This choice specimen has a graceful habit with finely divided golden foliage that emerges as bronze. It is less susceptible to sun scorch than the other gold varieties. It bears creamy white flowers that mature into red fruits.