Northern Ontario Plant Database
Sambucus canadensis L.
En: common elderberry, Canada elderberry, American black elderberry, sweet elderberry
Adoxaceae (Viburnum Family)
Sambucus canadensis L.
Synonym: Sambucus nigra L. subsp. canadensis (L.) Bolli
General: A tall, deciduous shrub, 1-3 m tall, growing in broad clumps. Flowers and leaves have a strong unpleasant odour, especially when bruised.
Stems/twigs: Stems are smooth, bark is light grayish-brown with prominent, warty lenticels; the pith of mature stems is large and white. Terminal buds are absent, lateral buds are opposite, conical, scaly, and appear slightly embedded in the stem; leaf scars are large and broadly triangular, usually with 5 prominent bundle scars.
Leaves: Opposite, pinnately compound, with 5—11 (usually 7) leaflets, and a 2.5-5 cm long petiole. The terminal leaflet has a longer stalk (petiolule), lateral leaflets are sessile or short-stalked. Lower leaflets are sometimes divided at the base into 2 or 3 segments. Leaflet blades are elliptic to lanceolate, 5—15 cm long, by 2.5—5.5 cm wide; bright to dark green above and somewhat paler beneath, smooth (glabrous) on both surfaces or slightly downy beneath; bases are broadly tapering (cuneate) to rounded, lateral leaflets often have oblique bases, with the blade longer on one side of the midrib than the other; the apex tapers gradually to a long-pointed (acuminate) tip; margins are sharply toothed (serrate), but may be entire near the base of the leaflets. Leaves turn yellow to reddish-orange in autumn.
Flowers: Bisexual, white, fragrant, small, and numerous in a broad, terminal, flat to dome-shaped, branched inflorescence (compound cyme), 10—18 cm wide; branches of the inflorescence and flower stalks (pedicels) are smooth and green, but turn bright to deep red in fruit. Calyx minute; corolla with 5 obovate lobes; the 5 exserted stamens are attached to the base of the corolla (epipetalous), between with the corolla lobes; the single pistil has an inferior ovary with a large, white, slightly 3-branched stigma. Flowers bloom in mid to late July.
Fruit: Large clusters of small, ovoid, purplish-black, berry-like drupes, 4—5 mm in diameter; borne on bright reddish-purple fruiting branches. Fruits mature in late summer and are only edible when cooked.
Habitat and Range: Roadsides, shores, borders of woods, clearings, swamps, and low, moist ground. The common elderberry is native to temperate regions of eastern North America. It is common throughout southern and eastern Ontario, and extends west along the north shore of Lake Huron to Sault Ste. Marie, extending inland (north) along the banks of streams.
Similar Species: Sambucus racemosa L., red elderberry, is similar to common elderberry, but red elderberry can be distinguished by its longer, pyramid-shaped (pyramidal) inflorescence, bright red fruit, fewer leaflets (5—7), and stems with cinnamon brown-pith. It blooms 5—6 weeks earlier than common elderberry.Back to species list