Sambucus nigra
Weedy and Potentially Invasive: Do Not Plant
Common Name: black elder 
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Adoxaceae
Native Range: Europe, northern Africa, southwestern Asia
Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 8.00 to 20.00 feet
Spread: 8.00 to 20.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: High
Suggested Use: Hedge, Naturalize, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Tolerate: Clay Soil
This plant has been found to be weedy and potentially invasive and should not be planted in Midwestern gardens.


Grow in medium to wet, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best in full sun. Tolerates a wide range of soils, but prefers moist, humusy ones. Plants spread by root suckers to form colonies. Prune suckers as they appear unless naturalizing is desired. Plants also spread freely by self-seeding in optimum conditions. A large number of late winter or early spring pruning options include (a) pruning out dead or weakened stems, (b) shortening one year stems or (c) cutting back to the ground to rejuvenate. Unpruned plants can rapidly become unattractive and weedy in appearance. Although plants are self-pollinating, fruit yields can be increased by planting more than one cultivar together.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sambucus nigra, commonly called European elder, is a deciduous, somewhat sprawling, multi-stemmed shrub (occasionally a small tree) that is native to Europe, southwestern Asia and northern Africa. It typically grows to 8-20’ (less frequently to 30') tall. It is particularly noted for its aromatic late spring flowers and its edible fruits (elderberries). Compound pinnate leaves (to 10” long) are dark green. Each leaf contains 3-7 serrate, ovate to elliptic leaflets (to 5” long). Leaves have an unpleasant aroma when cut or crushed. Tiny white flowers in large flattened umbel-like cymes (to 10” across) bloom in June-July. Flowers have a musky fragrance. Flowers give way to clusters of glossy black elderberry fruits (each to 3/8” across) in late summer. Fruits have been used to make jams, jellies and pie fillings, but are not considered to be as flavorful as the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). Fruits and flowers have also been used to make elderberry wine. Fruits are attractive to birds and wildlife. Species plants are infrequently sold in commerce, but a large number of smaller cultivars featuring purple foliage, variegated foliage, double flowers or berry colors other than black have become popular landscape plants.

Genus name comes from the Latin name, perhaps connected with sambuca a kind of harp.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin word for black in obvious reference to berry color.


Plants can spread somewhat aggressively in optimum conditions. Some susceptibility to canker, powdery mildew, leaf spot, borers, spider mites and aphids. Branches are susceptible to damage from high winds or from heavy snow/ice in winter.


Interesting large shrub featuring attractive flowers and edible fruits. Best sited in informal areas or backgrounds where it can naturalize.