Sambucus nigra L.

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

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'Sambucus nigra' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-02-23.

Common Names

  • Common Elder


Lacking hairs smooth. glabrescent Becoming hairless.
globularSpherical or globe-shaped.
Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
Odd-pinnate; (of a compound leaf) with a central rachis and an uneven number of leaflets due to the presence of a terminal leaflet. (Cf. paripinnate.)
Inflorescence in which pedicels all arise from same point on peduncle. May be flat-topped (as in e.g. Umbelliferae) to spherical (as in e.g. Araliaceae). umbellate In form of umbel.


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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Sambucus nigra' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-02-23.

A deciduous shrub, 15 to 20 ft high, or a small tree 30 ft or more high; young branches glabrous. Leaves pinnate, 4 to 12 in. long, composed of three, five, or seven (usually five) leaflets, which are ovate, 112 to 5 in. long, 34 to 2 in. wide, sharply toothed, glabrous except for a few hairs beneath. Flowers yellowish or dull white, with a heavy odour, produced during June in flat umbels 5 to 8 in. across, each umbel composed of four or five main divisions which are again several times divided. Berries globose, shining black, 14 in. wide, ripe in September.

Native of Europe, N. Africa and S.W. Asia. One of the best known of native shrubs, and to be regarded more often as a weed in gardens than anything else. Still, the elder, when made to assume the tree form by restricting it to one stem for 6 or 8 ft up, is not without a certain quaintness and charm. Its trunk is rough and crooked, and carries a large rounded head of richly leafy branches, laden with flower in June and with fruit in September. The seeds are spread by birds, and young elder plants spring up everywhere in woods, tall shrubberies, etc. In the neighbourhood of more important plants they must be rigorously pulled up. The species is chiefly represented in gardens by the numerous varieties that have sprung from it, some of which are mentioned below as worth cultivating. The type itself may be left to furnish out-of-the-way damp, dark corners, where little else will live.

No plant holds (or perhaps it is safer to say, used to hold) a more honoured place in domestic pharmacy than the elder. From its berries is prepared, by boiling with sugar, a wine or syrup which, diluted with hot water, is a favourite beverage in rural districts. It is usually taken just before bedtime and is considered a useful remedy for colds, chills, etc.

A large number of varieties have been obtained under cultivation, of which the following only need be mentioned as the most distinct:

'Aurea' Golden Elder

A good yellow-leaved shrub, useful for producing a broad patch of colour. It may be pruned back each spring. In cultivation 1883 and possibly the same as the elder once known as S. n. aurea Dixonii.

f. laciniata (L.) Zab.

Common Names
One-leaved Ash

S. nigra var. laciniata L. Parsley-leaved Elder

The handsomest cut-leaved variety of common elder, the leaflets being pinnately divided into linear pointed lobes. Known since the 16th century and occurring occasionally in the wild.

f. viridis Schwer.

S. n. var. viridis West.
S. virescens Desf.
S. n. var. virescens (Desf.) DC.
S. n. var. alba West.
S. n. var. leucocarpa Sm.
S. n. f. alba (West.) Rehd.
S. n. var. chlorocarpa Hayne

A mutation, occurring occasionally in the wild, including Britain, in which the fruits lose their purple dye and become greenish or whitish and more or less translucent; known since the 16th century. The wine made from the berries is clear. The green-fruited and so-called white-fruited forms were united in previous editions of this work, as they were by Graf von Schwerin in his monograph on the genus. De Candolle, too, in the Prodromus, doubted if they merited separate naming.There are two or three clones in cultivation in which the leaves are more or less flushed with purple. One of these, grown at Kew since 1957, derives from a plant found by Mr Robert Howat by a roadside in Yorkshire in 1954, and propagated by him. In this the flowers are pink-tinged, and the leaves bronze-purple, with or without streaks of bright green (Gard. Chron., Vol. 156 (1964), p. 567). A clone cultivated by Messrs Hillier as ‘Foliis Purpureis’, and received from a garden in N. Ireland, received an Award of Merit in 1979.


In this form the blade of many leaflets is reduced to threadlike proportions, consisting of little more than the stalk and midrib. Others are {1/8} to {3/4} in. wide, but distorted and shapeless. A curiosity only (S. n. linearis Kirchn.; S. n. heterophylla Schwer.).


A handsomely variegated shrub whose leaves are bordered with creamy white. The name S. n. var. albo-variegata was used for this in previous editions, but it belongs properly to an old white-splashed form. There is also a gold-margined variety, ‘Aureo-Marginata’.


A weeping form with stiff, pendulous branches.


A stiffly erect, inelegant form.


Flowers rosy coloured, with a double row of petals.


Leaves often with only three leaflets, proportionately broader, smaller and more rounded than in the type.