Common Elder


Common Elder (Sambucus Canadensis)

Description:

A small shrub, usually with many stems arising from the base, that can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m) high. Flat clusters of creamy white flowers contrast with lush, compound leaves containing 5 to 15 leaflets. The dark purple, almost black fruit, about 1/4 inch (6 mm) in diameter, ripens during late August and September. Elder leaves exude an unpleasant odour when crushed. The tips of twigs die back and branches often break off over the winter. Buds are opposite and large, although though not as big as those of red-berried elder. Bark is pale deep green, changing to light brown as the plant grows older.

 

Growing Conditions:

Unlike the closely-related red-berried cousin, this elder likes moist soil and can stand flooding conditions. It is often found in damp areas along roadsides, fence-lines and stream-banks. Common elder prefers full sunlight but is very tolerant of shade.

Propagation:

Elders can be grown from cuttings, both summer or winter. It is easiest to cut the ends of branches with three sets of buds in early spring. Plant directly in a permanent location, preferably after loosening up the soil. Bury two sets of buds and leave the top set exposed. For larger amounts of plants, it is easier to grow common elder from seed. Collect ripe berries, crush them between your fingers, and plant. Each berry contains 3-5 seeds, so they can be planted 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) apart. Most will not germinate until the second spring.

Wildlife Uses:

Berries are a preferred food of blue jay, northern mockingbird, gray catbird, American robin (below), wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, veery, cedar waxwing, rose-breasted grosbeak and white-throated sparrow, and are eaten by dozens of other species. The shrub provides good cover, and is used as a nesting site by alder flycatcher, yellow warbler and American goldfinch. In winter, snowshoe hare and other mammals browse the twigs and buds.

Areas of Usage:

This shrub is useful for planting in a wide variety of sites, as long as sufficient moisture is present. As a landscape plant around the home, it is well suited to clumps or hedges. It fits in well with the earlier-flowering red-berried elder. The combination of lush green foliage, common elder’s white flowers and red-berried elder’s colourful fruit is striking. The berries of common elder are also used as a food source by humans, as fresh fruit or for elderberry wine, jams, jellies, pies. The twigs, bark and leaves are highly toxic. Along streams or ponds, common elders add an important source of food and cover and should be incorporated into any plantings in moist areas.

Additional Information:

The Common Elder is found throughout the province. It is a shrub 5 to 15 feet in height. The stems rise from the ground usually in clumps and extend to the tip of the shrub. The branches are ascending and the crown is generally round-topped. It prefers moist soils where it reaches its best growth. It is common on the borders of streams and along fences. The wood is of no commercial importance but the fruit makes very good wine and is also used in pies and puddings. The shrub is planted as an ornamental. Its showy, sweet-smelling, white flowers and later the multitude of purple berries and measurable to the beauty of the landscape.

Upcoming Events

Jul
6
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Young Ecologists Se...
Summer Camp: Young Ecologists Se...
Jul 6 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 10 @ 3:00 pm
Young Ecologists: Session One This camp will begin to introduce the campers to the amazing complexity of our native Acadian forests. They will dissect owl pellets, take part in forest restoration planning and plantings and
Jul
13
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Nature Discovery Se...
Summer Camp: Nature Discovery Se...
Jul 13 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 17 @ 3:00 pm
Nature Discovery: Session One This camp will introduce the children to the woods, stream and native tree nursery that surround our Nature Center. The campers will delight in learning to use all their senses to
Jul
20
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Becoming a Naturali...
Summer Camp: Becoming a Naturali...
Jul 20 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 24 @ 3:00 pm
Becoming a Naturalist Session One This camp focuses on encountering and describing the natural world. Through the use of art and other hands-on outdoor activities, they’ll expand their understanding of life in the woodlands, waterways,
Jul
25
Sat
10:00 am Tracking the Mammals of PEI
Tracking the Mammals of PEI
Jul 25 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Come on out and learn about the native and introduced mammals found on PEI, as well as a brief look at some of the mammals we’ve lost. After a brief slideshow, we’ll head off to
Jul
27
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Bushcraft Ecology A...
Summer Camp: Bushcraft Ecology A...
Jul 27 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 31 @ 3:00 pm
Bushcraft Ecology Ages 12-14 These campers will delight in learning survival skills such as one-match fire making, shelter building, rope making with natural fibres, and tracking animals. Touching on plant and tree identification, campers will

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