Sambucus nigra L.

black elderberry

New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

Where native and non-native distributions co-occur in a county, only the native distribution is shown.

North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Black elderberry is often grown as an ornamental plant, for its white, lacy flowers. Its black berries produce a palatable wine. The colorful elderberry borer beetle is a specialized feeder on the roots.

Habitat

Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), forest edges, meadows and fields, shores of rivers or lakes, shrublands or thickets, swamps, wetland margins (edges of wetlands)

Characteristics

Habitat
  • terrestrial
  • wetlands
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Growth form
the plant is a shrub (a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
Leaf type
the leaf blade is compound (made up of two or more discrete leaflets
Leaves per node
there are two leaves per node along the stem
Leaf blade edges
the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
Leaf duration
the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
armature on plant
the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns
Leaf blade length
250–300 mm
Leaf stalk
the leaves have leaf stalks
Fruit type (general)
the fruit is fleshy
Bark texture
the bark of an adult plant is ridged or plated
Twig winter color
  • brown
  • gray
Bud scale number
there are three or more scales on the winter bud, and they overlap like shingles, with one edge covered and the other edge exposed
Show All Characteristics
  • Buds or leaf scars
    Bud position relative to scar
    the winter bud has a leaf scar just below it
    Bud scale number
    there are three or more scales on the winter bud, and they overlap like shingles, with one edge covered and the other edge exposed
    Bud scar shape (Fraxinus)
    NA
    Collateral buds
    there are no collateral buds on the sides of the branches
    Leaf scar arrangement
    there are two leaf scars per node on the stem or twig
    Pseudoterminal bud
    there are no pseudoterminal buds on the tips of the branches
    Superposed buds
    there are no superposed buds on the branch
    Terminal bud
    there is no terminal bud on the branch
    Winter bud distribution
    the winter buds are distributed fairly evenly along the twig
    Winter bud scale hairs
    the winter bud scales have no hairs on them
    Winter bud scales
    the winter bud is perulate (partially or completely covered with one or more scales)
    Winter bud shape
    the winter buds are conical (cone-shaped)
    Winter bud stalks
    the winter buds have no stalks
  • Flowers
    Anther color
    the anthers show no hint of a pink, reddish or purplish tint
    Carpels fused
    the carpels are fused to one another
    Enlarged sterile flowers
    there are no enlarged sterile flowers on the plant
    Flower petal color
    white
    Flower symmetry
    there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower (the flower is radially symmetrical)
    Hairs on ovary (Amelanchier)
    NA
    Hypanthium present
    the flower does not have a hypanthium
    Inflorescence position
    the inflorescences grow on the twigs
    Inflorescence type
    • the inflorescence is a dichasial cyme (an axis with a terminal flower, below it a pair of branches, each with a terminal flower, these branches may in turn each have a pair of branches and so on)
    • the inflorescence is a panicle (branched with the individual flowers on stalks)
    Number of pistils
    1
    Ovary position
    the ovary is below the point of petal and/or sepal attachment
    Petal and sepal arrangement
    the flower includes two cycles of petal- or sepal-like structures
    Petal appearance
    the petals are thin and delicate, and pigmented (colored other than green or brown)
    Petal fusion
    the perianth parts are fused to form a tube, cup, or bell shape
    Sepal cilia (Ilex)
    NA
    Sepal tip glands
    there are no glands at the tips of the sepal lobes
    Sepals fused only to sepals
    the sepals are fused to each other (not other flower parts), at least near their bases
    Stamen number
    5
    Stamen position relative to petals
    the stamens are positioned opposite the sepals (antesepalous)
    Stamens fused
    the stamens are not fused to one another
  • Fruits or seeds
    Berry color
    • black
    • purple
    Fruit tissue origin
    there are no flower parts that form part of the fruit
    Fruit type (general)
    the fruit is fleshy
    Fruit type (specific)
    the fruit is a drupe (fleshy, with a firm inner ovary wall that encloses a single seed)
    Nut with spines (Fagaceae)
    NA
    Wings on fruit
    there are no wings on the fruit
  • Glands or sap
    Sap color
    the sap is clear and watery
    Stalked glands on fruit (Rosa)
    NA
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant is a shrub (a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
  • Leaves
    Hairs on underside of leaf blade
    • the underside of the leaf has hairs on it
    • the underside of the leaf has no hairs
    Hairs on upper side of leaf blade
    the upper side of the leaf is not hairy, or has very few hairs
    Leaf blade base shape
    • the base of the leaf blade is cuneate (wedge-shaped, tapers to the base with relatively straight, converging edges), or narrow
    • the base of the leaf blade is rounded
    Leaf blade base symmetry
    the leaf blade base is symmetrical
    Leaf blade bloom
    the underside of the leaf has no noticeable bloom
    Leaf blade edges
    the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
    Leaf blade edges (Acer)
    NA
    Leaf blade flatness
    the leaf is flat (planar) at the edges
    Leaf blade hairs
    the hairs on the leaf blade are different from the choices given
    Leaf blade length
    250–300 mm
    Leaf blade scales
    there are no scales on the leaf blades
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blade is elliptic (widest near the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is lanceolate (lance-shaped; widest below the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is ovate (widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends)
    Leaf blade texture
    the leaf blade is herbaceous (has a leafy texture)
    Leaf blade translucent dots
    there are no translucent dots on the leaf blade
    Leaf blade vein pattern
    the main veins of the leaf blade are pinnate (the secondary veins branch off at intervals from the main central vein) and non-arcuate (not arched towards the leaf tip)
    Leaf blade veins
    the leaf blade has one main vein running from the base toward the tip
    Leaf duration
    the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
    Leaf form
    the plant is broad-leaved (with broadly flattened leaf blades)
    Leaf lobe tips (Quercus)
    NA
    Leaf midrib glands
    the midrib of the leaf blade lacks glands on the upper surface
    Leaf stalk
    the leaves have leaf stalks
    Leaf stalk attachment to leaf
    the petiole attaches at the basal margin of the leaf blade
    Leaf stalk nectaries
    there are no nectaries on the leaf stalk
    Leaf stalk shape
    the leaf stalk is not flattened
    Leaf teeth
    the leaf blade margin is serrate (with forward-pointing teeth) or dentate (with outward-pointing teeth)
    Leaf teeth hairs (Carya)
    NA
    Leaf type
    the leaf blade is compound (made up of two or more discrete leaflets
    Leaves per node
    there are two leaves per node along the stem
    Specific leaf type
    the leaf is compound, with three leaflets
    Stipules
    there are no stipules on the plant, or they fall off as the leaf expands
  • Place
    Habitat
    • terrestrial
    • wetlands
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • edges of forests
    • edges of wetlands
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • meadows or fields
    • shores of rivers or lakes
    • shrublands or thickets
    • swamps
  • Scent
    Plant odor
    the plant does not have much of an odor, or it has an unpleasant or repellant odor
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Aerial roots
    the plant has no aerial roots
    Bark texture
    the bark of an adult plant is ridged or plated
    Branch brittleness (willows only)
    NA
    Branch cross-section
    the branch is circular in cross-section, or it has five or more sides, so that there are no sharp angles
    First-year cane (Rubus)
    NA
    Lenticels on twigs
    there are clearly lenticels on the twigs
    Pith shape
    the outline of the pith in a twig is roughly round
    Pith type
    the pith inside the twig is solid, completely filled with spongy tissue
    Short shoots
    there are no peg- or knob-like shoots present
    Twig bloom
    there is no bloom on the twig
    Twig hairs
    the twigs have few or no hairs on them
    Twig papillae (Vaccinium species only)
    NA
    Twig scales
    there are no scales on the twig surface
    Twig winter color
    • brown
    • gray
    Wings on branch
    the branch does not have wings on it
    armature on plant
    the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns

Wetland Status

Occurs in wetlands, but also in non-wetlands more than occasionally. (Wetland indicator code: FACW-)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
absent
Massachusetts
absent
New Hampshire
absent
Rhode Island
absent
Vermont
absent

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

No

Sometimes Confused With

Sambucus racemosa:
mature fruits red and pith of branches orange-brown (vs. S. nigra, with mature fruits purple-black and pith of branches white).

Synonyms

  • Sambucus canadensis L.

Family

Adoxaceae

Genus

Sambucus

Notes on Subspecies and Varieties in New England

Sambucus nigra L. ssp. nigra is non-native and known from CT. S. nigra ssp. canadensis (L.) R. Bolli is native and known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT.

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

1.  Sambucus nigra L. n

black elderberry. 1a. Sambucus canadensis L. • CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Swamps, wetland margins, stream banks, mesic openings; also areas of habitation and roadsides for ssp. nigra.

1a.  Leaf with 5–11 leaflets, usually 7; petals white in life; carpels with (3–) 4 (–5) stigmas; branchlets with sparse lenticels; drupe bright red prior to turning purple-black, 4–5 mm wide; plants up to 2.5 m tall … 1a. S. nigra ssp. canadensis (L.) R. Bolli

1b.  Leaf with 3–7 leaflets, usually 5; petals yellow-white in life; carpels with 3 (–4) stigmas; branchlets with abundant lenticels; drupe dingy purple prior to turning black, 6–8 mm wide; plants 3–10 m tall … 1b. S. nigra ssp. nigra

Subspecies canadensis is native and known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Subspecies nigra is 
non-native and known from CT.