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Black Elderberry
Sambucus nigra

About Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) Sambucus nigra is a species in the relatively newly designated Adoxaceae (Moschatel) family. It is native to most of Europe, northwest Africa southwest Asia, and western North America. It is quite common and widespread in California and is most commonly called Black Elderberry, though there are numerous other common names in other parts of its range. (Ssp. caerulea is also quite common and is known as Blue Elderberry). It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 4-6 meter (rarely to 10 meter) tall. The bark, light grey when young, changes to a coarse grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10-30 centimeter long, pinnate with five to seven (rarely nine) leaflets, the leaflets 5-12 centimeter long and 3-5 centimeter broad, with a serrated margin. The hermaphrodite flowers are borne in large corymbs 10-25 centimeter diameter in mid summer, the individual flowers white, 5-6 millimeter diameter, with five petals; they are pollinated by flies. The fruit is a dark purple to black berry 3-5 millimeter diameter, produced in drooping clusters in the late autumn; they are an important food for many fruit-eating birds.

In the garden this species likes regular water but can also adapt to summer drought. Growth tends to be somewhat unruly so pruning for appearance may be desired. Unripe fruits may be toxic to people, but ripe fruits are reportedly edible, probably best when cooked. Native people used the leaves for medicinal purposes. The central pith of stems was hollowed out to make musical instruments.
Plant Description
Plant Type

Max. Height
13.1 - 30 ft (4 - 9.1 m)

Max. Width
10 - 20 ft (3.0 - 6.1 m)

Spreading, Upright

Growth Rate

Winter Deciduous

Flower Color
Cream, White, Purple, Black

Flowering Season

Native Status

Natural Setting
Site Type
Valleys, canyons, washes, slopes, seasonal drainages, and other areas where a little extra moisture is present. Sometimes found as part of wetland/riparian community, other times in more mesic portions of chaparral or woodland.

Elevation ?
-221' - 10255'

Annual Precip. ?
4.7" - 153.6"

Summer Precip. ?
0.14" - 5.67"

Coldest Month ?
24.3° F - 57.2° F

Hottest Month ?
47.0° F - 80.6° F

Humidity ?
0.01 vpd - 31.90 vpd

Soil Description
Tolerates most soils

Soil PH
5.0 - 8.0


Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to 0° F

Companion Plants
Use caution in placement because the berries can be messy, staining concrete or cars. Can be used with a wide variety of chaparral and woodland plants including Firs (Abies sp.), Pines (Pinus sp.), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), Ceanothus sp., Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Mahonia/Barberry (Berberis sp.), and Currant/Gooseberry (Ribes sp.).

Wildlife Attracted
Insects and hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers. Many birds and some mammals are attracted to the berries.

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Very Easy

Water Requirement ?
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Moderately Popular

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Organic with Rocks

Prune to shape in winter when it is leafless. New growth in spring will be vigorous.

Common uses
Hedges, Deer Resistant, Bird Gardens, Bee Gardens

Nursery Availability
Commonly Available

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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