Large flat white flower clusters adorn each stem of the American Elderberry Bush at the edge of our garden today. Sambucus canadensis, known as the American Elderberry is a shrubby plant native to the Southeastern United States. This time of year you can spot the large bloom clusters on plants in ditches and moist spots along the roadside all over Alabama and Georgia. Perhaps you've noticed these large flowers on your commute to work or school and wondered what they are.
The flower clusters provide nectar for all types of pollinators. When you examine the flowers up close, you find that they emit a nice honey scent into the air. Can pollinators smell that? If they cannot, I wonder how they find flowers that have the sweet nectar they want.
The flower clusters are followed by small purple-black berries in late summer. The berries are adored by birds and make great wine. They do not taste good to me, but once my little boy ate so many that he vomited. The berries should be cooked before ingested. Little boys will eat anything and must be watched constantly, especially in the garden. I am fortunate that vomiting is the only thing he suffered that day. He is now 14 and since then has eaten very many things that horrify me, but that's a story for another day.
Elderberry loves water but is easy to grow in any garden. Sambucus spreads by suckers and reaches a height of 8-10 feet by the end of summer even if cut to the ground in early spring. Plant it at the back of the border or along the edge of your property, so the size will not be a problem. Looks particularly beautiful on the bank of a pond or stream, if you have one.
Sambucus canadensis can be grown just about anywhere in the United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.
Elderberry is not picky about its site, as it will grow great in either part shade or full soil, as long as soil is rich and water is plentiful. Well that's what it prefers, but I've found it will grow in regular soil where water is not plentiful, but just won't get as large, and will be quite leggy.
Whether you use the flowers and berries yourself or not, consider planting Elderberry in your garden. It is a great plant for wildlife.