American elderberry

(Sambucus canadensis)

Conservation Status
American elderberry
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FAC - Facultative


FACW - Facultative wetland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACW - Facultative wetland


American elderberry is a fast growing, short lived, shrub rising on multiple stems from shallow roots and stolons. Individual plants usually live 3 to 5 years and are replaced by new plants rising from the same rootstock.

The stems are erect or arching, branching, hairless, up to 12 tall, and up to 3½ in diameter at breast height. They are brittle, weak, and dotted with conspicuous, large, raised, warty bumps (lenticels). First year stems and twigs are green, smooth, and sometimes covered with whitish, waxy bloom (glaucous). Second year stems and twigs are grayish or yellowish-brown, woody, and rough.

The twigs are stout. The area of cells in the center of the stem (pith) is large, encompassing more than half of the diameter of the twig. The pith is pure white in both first-year and second-year twigs. Lateral buds are reddish-brown, small, cone-shaped, and somewhat depressed. There are no terminal buds.

The leaves are opposite, deciduous, and pinnately divided into usually 7, occasionally 5 or 9, sometimes 11, leaflets. They are attached to the twig on a 1¼ to 2¾ long leaf stalk. The upper surface of the leaf stalk is channeled. The channel is hairy but the leaf stalk is otherwise hairless.

The leaflets are lance-shaped to egg-shaped or elliptic, 2 to 4¾ long, and 1 to 2¼ wide. They are either stalkless or are attached to the central leaf stalk (rachis) on a leaflet stalk no more than ¼ long. They are rounded or tapered and symmetrical at the base and taper to a point at the tip with concave sides along the tip. The terminal leaflet is often somewhat larger than the lateral leaflets. The upper surface of the leaflet is dark green, and sparsely hairy, at least along the midvein. The lower surface is pale green and hairy along the veins. The margins have fine, sharp, forward-pointing teeth.

The inflorescence is a branched, 3½ to 7 wide cluster (cyme) at the ends of the stems and branches. The cymes are flat-topped and much wider than long. They rise on erect, 2 to 5½ long stalks that branch at the tip into 5 rays. Each cyme has 200 to 400 small flowers.

The flowers are about ¼ wide. There are 5 white petals and 5 stamens with white filaments and yellow anthers. The flowers have a musty fragrance. They appear in early July to mid-August.

The fruit is a juicy, globular berry, about ¼ in diameter, containing 3 to 5 seeds. It ripens in early August to mid-September turning dark, blackish-purple.




5 to 12


Flower Color




Similar Species


Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) has undivided (simple), hairless leaves. The inflorescence is smaller, 2 to 4 wide, and round-topped.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa) second year twigs have brown pith. The leaves usually have 5 leaflets, occasionally 7. The leaf stalk is hairy on all surfaces. The leaflets are asymmetrical at the base and are more coarsely toothed. The inflorescence is smaller, pyramid-shaped or egg-shaped, not flat-topped. It blooms from June to July. Mature berries are bright red.


Moist to wet. Meadows, floodplains, marsh edges, streams. Full sun to light shade.




Early July to mid-August


Pests and Diseases


Elderberry Rust (Puccinia bolleyana)




The fruit is safe to eat when cooked. The raw fruit, the seeds, and all other parts of the plant are poisonous, and can be lethal at high doses.




Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 24, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Dipsacales (honeysuckles, moschatels, and allies)  


Viburnaceae (elder)  


Sambucus (elders)  

Some authors treat this as a Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis, a subspecies of black elderberry.

There is some disagreement about the correct placement of the genera Sambucus and Viburnum. They were formerly included in the family Caprifoliaceae. In 2003, the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group proposed moving them to the Adoxacea family (APG II), but the Nomenclature Committee for Vascular Plants approved the conservation of Viburnaceae. In 2016, Angiosperm Phylogeny Group proposed to “super-conserve” Adoxacea (APG IV), but the General Committee for Botanical Nomenclature rejected the proposal.

Currently (2023), some sources, including USDA PLANTS and NatureServe, place the genera Sambucus and Viburnum in the Caprifoliaceae family. Some sources, including ITIS and NCBI, place them in the Adoxacea family. Almost all other sources, including APG IV, World Flora Online, Plants of the World Online, GRIN, GBIF, and iNaturalist, place the two genera in the Viburnaceae family.


Subordinate Taxa






Sambucus canadensis ssp. canadensis

Sambucus canadensis var. laciniata

Sambucus canadensis var. submollis

Sambucus cerulea var. mexicana

Sambucus mexicana

Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Sambucus orbiculata

Sambucus simpsonii


Common Names


American black elderberry

American elder

American elderberry

blue elder

common elder

common elderberry



Mexican elderberry













A branched, flat-topped or convex flower cluster in which the terminal flower opens first and the outermost flowers open last.



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.



On a compound leaf, having the leaflets arranged on opposite sides of a common stalk. On a bryophyte, having branches evenly arranged on opposite sides of a stem.



The spongy cells in the center of the stem.



The main axis of a compound leaf, appearing as an extension of the leaf stalk; the main axis of an inflorescence.



An above-ground, creeping stem that grows along the ground and produces roots and sometimes new plants at its nodes. A runner.

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    American elderberry   American elderberry  



  American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Andree Reno Sanborn
  American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)  

The fruit is safe but all other parts of the plant are poisonous. For jam, pies, wine.

  Sambucus canadensis (Common Elder)
Allen Chartier
  Sambucus canadensis (Common Elder)  



Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Wild Edibles 25: Elderberry Juice (Sambucus canadensis)
Journey Outdoors

Uploaded on Aug 28, 2011

How to identify common elderberry and how to make elderberry juice. The elderberry is very nutritious and is also used as an antiviral to fight the flu but you must boil the berries first.

  elderberry (Sambucus nigra (syn. S. canadensis)

Uploaded on May 19, 2010

Aquatic and Invasive Plant Identification Series by the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants ( ) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Invasive Plant Management Section.

For more information about elderberry, go to

Video editor/videographer - Phil Chiocchio

  Sambucus canadensis Elderberry

Published on Oct 10, 2012

Sambucus canadensis

Common Name: American elder . elderberry

Type: Deciduous shrub

Zone: 3 to 9

Native Range: Eastern North America

5'-12' H & W

Bloom Time: June to July

Bloom Color: White

Sun: 4+ hours

Water: Medium to wet

Maintenance: High

Flowers: Showy Flowers, Fragrant Flowers

Fruit: Showy Fruit, Edible Fruit

Wildlife: Attracts Birds, Attracts Butterflies

Tolerates: Clay Soil, Wet Soil

Uses: Erosion Control, Rain Garden

  Elderberries at Cricket Hill Garden
Cricket Hill Garden

Published on Jun 24, 2013

American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is an attractive edible landscape plant for temperate climates. A native plant, its produces beautiful flowers much loved by native pollinators and delicious purple berries that can be made into tinctures, teas, pies, and wines. In this video, Dan Furman of Cricket Hill Garden introduces the growth habit, history, and some of the virtues of this worthy shrub.




Visitor Sightings

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Location: Spring Lake Township, MN. In our property edge close to the wetland.

We have two bushes 5' away from each other


Location: Owatonna, MN

American elderberry  
  Beth Thomas
2012 to
present day

Location: Verndale Minnesota

These plants are located on my personal property.





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