Nature’s Notebook

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Photo for species Sambucus_nigra

The fruit of Sambucus nigra is used to make wine, jellies, candy, pies, and sauces. It is also used in aromatic distilled water, and in flavoring lard. Its wood is used to make combs, spindles, mathematical instruments, blowguns, flutes, and whistles. In addition, its bark is used to make a dye, and its leaves are used as an insecticide. In addition, it is used medicinally. Despite its extensive human use, however, several parts of the plant and its unripe fruit contain a poisonous alkaloid and cyanogenic glycoside that need to be considered when using the various taxa within this species.

Photo Credit:
© Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org.

Sambucus nigra

black elderberry, European black elder, European black elderberry, European elderberry
What does this species look like?
What does this species look like?: 

Black elderberry is a deciduous, often multi-stemmed, shrub to small tree. It grows from 6.5 to 26 feet tall and is generally as wide as it is tall. Flowers appear when the plant is 2 to 4 years old and have male and female parts on a single flower. They are insect-pollinated.

Black elderberry grows in moist woodlands, thickets, riparian areas, fence rows, ditches, travel corridors, and open places. It prefers moist, well-drained, sunny sites and is mostly shade intolerant. It can grow on a wide range of soil types, but prefers loam and sandy loam soils.

Why observe this species?

Black elderberry is a USA-NPN regional plant species. Regional species are ecologically or economically important and are distributed more locally than calibration species. The USA-NPN integrates these observations to better understand plant responses within the different geographic regions of the nation.

Where is this species found?
States & Provinces: 
AL, AR, AZ, BC, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MB, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NB, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NS, NV, NY, OH, OK, ON, OR, PA, PE, QC, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
Special Considerations for Observing

If drought seems to be the cause of leaf color or fall for a plant, please make a comment to that effect.

Which phenophases should I observe?
Leaves

Do you see...?

Breaking leaf buds
One or more breaking leaf buds are visible on the plant. A leaf bud is considered "breaking" once a green leaf tip is visible at the end of the bud, but before the first leaf from the bud has unfolded to expose the leaf stalk (petiole) or leaf base.

How many buds are breaking?

Less than 3;3 to 10;11 to 100;101 to 1,000;1,001 to 10,000;More than 10,000

More...

Leaves
One or more live, unfolded leaves are visible on the plant. A leaf is considered "unfolded" once its entire length has emerged from the breaking bud so that the leaf stalk (petiole) or leaf base is visible at its point of attachment to the stem. Do not include fully dried or dead leaves.

What percentage of the canopy is full with leaves? Ignore dead branches in your estimate.

Less than 5%;5-24%;25-49%;50-74%;75-94%;95% or more

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Increasing leaf size
A majority of leaves on the plant have not yet reached their full size and are still growing larger. Do not include new leaves that continue to emerge at the ends of elongating stems throughout the growing season.

What percentage of full size are most leaves?

Less than 25%;25-49%;50-74%;75-94%;95% or more

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Colored leaves
One or more leaves (including any that have recently fallen from the plant) have turned to their late-season colors. Do not include fully dried or dead leaves that remain on the plant.

What percentage of the canopy is full with colored leaves?

Less than 5%;5-24%;25-49%;50-74%;75-94%;95% or more

More...

Falling leaves
One or more leaves are falling or have recently fallen from the plant. More...

Flowers

Do you see...?

Flowers or flower buds
One or more fresh open or unopened flowers or flower buds are visible on the plant. Include flower buds that are still developing, but do not include wilted or dried flowers.

How many flowers and flower buds are present? For species in which individual flowers are clustered in flower heads, spikes or catkins (inflorescences), simply estimate the number of flower heads, spikes or catkins and not the number of individual flowers.

Less than 3;3 to 10;11 to 100;101 to 1,000;1,001 to 10,000;More than 10,000

More...

Open flowers
One or more open, fresh flowers are visible on the plant. Flowers are considered "open" when the reproductive parts (male stamens or female pistils) are visible between or within unfolded or open flower parts (petals, floral tubes or sepals). Do not include wilted or dried flowers.

What percentage of all fresh flowers (buds plus unopened plus open) on the plant are open? For species in which individual flowers are clustered in flower heads, spikes or catkins (inflorescences), estimate the percentage of all individual flowers that are open.

Less than 5%;5-24%;25-49%;50-74%;75-94%;95% or more

More...

Fruits

Do you see...?

Fruits
One or more fruits are visible on the plant. For Sambucus nigra, the fruit is berry-like and changes from green to dark purple or black'

How many fruits are present?

Less than 3;3 to 10;11 to 100;101 to 1,000;1,001 to 10,000;More than 10,000

More...

Ripe fruits
One or more ripe fruits are visible on the plant. For Sambucus nigra, a fruit is considered ripe when it has turned dark purple or black'

What percentage of all fruits (unripe plus ripe) on the plant are ripe?

Less than 5%;5-24%;25-49%;50-74%;75-94%;95% or more

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Recent fruit or seed drop
One or more mature fruits or seeds have dropped or been removed from the plant since your last visit. Do not include obviously immature fruits that have dropped before ripening, such as in a heavy rain or wind, or empty fruits that had long ago dropped all of their seeds but remained on the plant.

How many mature fruits have dropped seeds or have completely dropped or been removed from the plant since your last visit?

Less than 3;3 to 10;11 to 100;101 to 1,000;1,001 to 10,000;More than 10,000

More...