Sambucus racemosa var. arborescens
Red elderberry is a large, deciduous shrub that can easily be pruned to take the form of a small tree. In mid-spring, the branch tips are abounding with fragrant white flowers that provide nectar for butterflies and bees. As spring turns to summer, flowers mature into tiny red berries that are attractive to the gardener's eye and as food for a plethora of backyard birds. Hollow stems provide habitat for mason bees.
- Plant type/canopy layer: deciduous, perennial, large shrub
- Size at maturity: 8-18' tall, 10' wide
- Light requirements: full sun to full shade
- Moisture requirements: moist to wet soil
- Bloom time: March - August (April - May in the Portland Metro area)
- Growth rate/ease: fast growing, easy to grow
- Wildlife support: flowers attracts and supports bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators; berries are eaten by more than 30 species of local birds; brittle, pithy stems are superb insect habitat, particularly for nesting mason bees
- Native habitat/range: common in seasonally flooded streambanks and wet meadows, logged areas and woods near coast to mid-elevations across the Pacific Northwest. Portland Plant List - yes.
- Special features & uses: wildlife favorite; supports hummingbirds; landscape uses include woodland gardens and erosion control; berries are edible only when cooked (toxic to human when raw) and can be made into wine, sauces or jelly, indigenous peoples traditionally steam the berries and store underground or in water for winter; medicinally the leaves, bark or roots can be applied topically to aching muscles and joints, flowers can be boiled down to treat coughs and colds; hollow stems can be used for whistles and pipes.
Gardening with Red Elderberry: This fast-growing large shrub tolerates a variety of sun and moisture conditions. That said, it will generally require more moist soils in more open and sunny areas. Try it along the edges of your moist woodland, in a ditch, bioswale or raingarden, or in the dry shade under conifers. Its vase-like shape is highly prunable, making it a surprisingly good choice for smaller gardens, along fences and side yards, where it can be effortlessly shaped into a small tree. Note - branches and small sections often die off as quickly as new branches spring forth. Don’t be alarmed as you see branches become leafless and brittle, this process is not only normal, but is creating exceptional habitat for wildlife.
Photo Credit 1: "Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)" by La.Catholique is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Photo Credits 2 & 4: Karli Del Biondo, Beetles and Bees
Photo Credit 3: Nikkie West, Sparrowhawk Native Plants