Sambucus canadensis L. - Common Elderberry,American Eld

Sambucus canadensis
Photo by Steven D. Glenn

Native , Common

By Steven D. Glenn

Not peer reviewed

Last Modified 06/26/2013

Back to Sambucus

Sambucus canadensis

Common Names

Common Elderberry,American Eld

Field Identification

Deciduous upright shrub to 4 m with thick, spongy-filled stems and twigs and with opposite pinnately-compound leaves; clusters of small white flowers followed by clusters of small dark blue to black ovoid fruits.

Food uses

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for food purposes without first consulting a physician.

Moerman, 1998 Native Americans used the berries to make wine, pies, jellies, sauces, porridges, and also eaten raw. Also the blossoms were dipped in hot water to make a pleasant drink.

Medicinal uses

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for medicinal purposes without first consulting a physician.

Moerman, 1998 Used by Native Americans to treat rheumatism, burns, skin problems, headaches, liver troubles, colic, jaundice, stomach problems, heart disease, measles, diphtheria, mumps, venereal disease, fever, and toothache. They also used this species as an emetic, laxative, cathartic, blood purifier, tonic, and diuretic.

Other uses

Moerman, 1998 Native Americans used the stems to make popguns, water squirt guns, and blowguns; stems also used to make medicine blowing tubes. They also used the inner bark to make a repellant to ward off flies and other insects.

Poisonous properties

Burrows, 2001 Although fruits have been used for food and beverage products, ingestion of raw fruit as well as other parts has caused digestive tract problems. Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and profuse salivation. Other signs occasionally observed include abdominal pain, weakness, dizziness, incoordination, labored respiration, and numbness. Death is unlikely. Generally, adverse affects do not arise when the fruits are cooked or fermented, processes which perhaps denature the tertiary structures of the bioactive constituents.


A recent author (Bolli, 1994) has reduced the American Sambucus canadensis to varietal status within a circumpolar S. nigra s.l. complex. For now, the more traditional approach has been followed with S. canadensis maintained as a distinct species in this treatment.

 *Sambucus canadensis L., Sp. Pl. 269. 1753.
Sambucus americana W. Young, Cat. Arb. Arbust. Am. 22. 1783, nom.
Sambucus nigra sensu Marsh., Arbust. Am. 141. 1785. non L. 1753.
Sambucus bipinnata Moench., Meth. Pl. 506. 1794.
Sambucus lucida Tausch, Flora 21: 737. 1838.
Sambuscus repens Raf., Alsogr. Am. 47. 1838.
Sambucus glauca sensu Gray, Pl. Wright. 2: 66. 1853. non Nutt. 1842.
Sambucus canadensis var. glabra Schwerin, Mitt. Deutsch. Dendr. Ges. 1920(29): 215. 1920.
Sambucus canadensis f. typica Schwerin, Mitt. Deutsch. Dendr. Ges. 1920(29): 215. 1920.
*Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis (L.) R. Bolli, Diss. Bot. 223: 168. 1994.
(Holotype: LINN 381.2 ?)

*Sambucus canadensis f. rubra Palmer & Steyermark, Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 25: 773. 1938.
TYPE: USA, Missouri, Atchison County, Watson: 3 Sept. 1920, E. J. Palmer 18928 (Holotype: AAH?)

*Sambucus canadensis f. aurea (J. F. Cowell ex L. H. Bailey) Rehder, Bibliogr. Cult. Trees 599. 1949.
Sambucus canadensis var. aurea Cowell in Bailey, Cycl. Am. Hort. [4]: 1610. 1902.
Sambucus canadensis f. delicatissima Schwerin, Mitt. Deutsch. Dendr. Ges. 1907(16): 256. 1908.
TYPE: unknown

Sambucus canadensis f. chlorocarpa Rehder in Sargent, Trees Shrubs 2: 188. 1911. TYPE: unknown

The name Sambucus is derived from an erroneous tenth-century Anglo-Saxon translation of the "Herbarium of Apuleius", a work written in the fourth century, spuriously attributed to the second century Roman philosopher and poet. In chapter cxlviii the translator misidentified a Greek word of Coptic origin as the elder which was adopted by ante-Linnaean botanists and perpetuated to this day. Gerard, 1895


HABIT Perennial, deciduous, phanerophytic, stoloniferous shrub, monoclinous, 1-4 m tall.

STEMS Main stems ascending or erect, round. Bark smooth, not exfoliating, brown or light gray or gray, with prominent lenticels. Branches erect or ascending, spring orthotropic shoots later give rise to plagiotropic summer shoots which sprout from buds of spring shoots and become woody in late summer of the same year. Twigs light orange-red or light yellowish green or light green or green, odoriferous, terete, 3-5 mm in diameter, lenticellate, glabrous, occasionally glaucous. Pith white, round, continuous, spongy. Sap translucent. For a detailed analysis of shoot vascularization see Esau, 1945

BUDS Axillary only, scattered along stem; axillary buds 1 per axil, 4 mm long. Bud scales dark orange-red, imbricate, membranaceous, glabrous, eglandular, margins ciliate. Bud scale scars not encircling the stem. Leaf scars broadly crescent-shaped, vascular bundle scars 3, U-shaped.

LEAVES Opposite, once pinnately compound, 2 per node, spaced somewhat evenly along stem, divergent from stem. Stipules present or absent, lateral, free from the petiole, leaf-like or gland-like or transitional; often caducous. Leaves petiolate, petiole terete, glabrous, eglandular. Leaf blades: abaxial surface light green, adaxial surface green, bilaterally symmetric, 25-60 cm long, abaxial surface glabrous or with long and unbranched hairs, erect or spreading, dark orange-red or white, sparse or moderately dense, distributed throughout. Adaxial surface glabrous or with long and unbranched hairs, erect or spreading, dark orange-red or white, sparse or moderately dense, distributed throughout. Leaflets petiolulate, 5-11, usually 5-7, glabrous or with short and unbranched hairs. Petiolules furrowed, 0.1-1.3 cm long, glabrous or with long and unbranched hairs, often with reddish hairs. Leaflets lanceolate or ovate or widely ovate, 6-11 cm long, 2-5.5 cm wide, base acute or cuneate or obtuse, margin serrate, apex acuminate or acute. For a discussion regarding the stipules and their production of extrafloral nectar see Bolli, 1994

INFLORESCENCES Bisexual, compound, terminal umbelliform cyme. Peduncle 8-13 cm long, glabrous, eglandular. Bracteoles 2, at apex of pedicel, margin entire, glabrous, eglandular, minute.

FLOWERS Serotinous, formed on the current season's growth, bisexual, with sepals and petals readily distinguishable from one another, 5-merous, (occasionally 6-merous) 4-5 mm wide, fragrance present, perianth of two whorls. Calyx actinomorphic, of fused sepals, persistent. Sepal lobes 5, triangular, 0.5-1 mm long, margin entire, apex acute, abaxial surface glabrous, eglandular. Corolla actinomorphic, acetabuliform, of free petals, deciduous, abaxial and adaxial surfaces the same color, light yellow or white. Petals 5, 2-3 mm long, margin entire, apex obtuse, abaxial surface glabrous, eglandular, adaxial surface glabrous, eglandular. Gynoecium syncarpous. Locules 3-4. Stigmas 1, 4(3-5) lobed, sessile. Ovary inferior, glabrous. Placentation axile. Androecium epipetalous, haplostemous, extrose. Stamens 5, 2-3 mm long. Anthers yellow, glabrous, filaments straight, glabrous. For a detailed investigation of floral micro-anatomy and morphology see Wilkinson, 1948 For a detailed survey of pollen morphology see Bolli, 1994; Samutina, 1986

FRUITS Drupe, dark violet-blue to black (f. rubra and var. aurea have red fruit), ovoid, 4-6 mm long, 4-6 mm wide, glabrous, eglandular. ?(f. chlorocarpa - greenish)

SEEDS Seeds 3-5, light brown, 2-4 mm long, 1.5-2 mm wide, glabrous, eglandular, rugose.


Usually in wet conditions with somewhat rich soils including swamps, marshes, wet woods, roadside ditches, lake and pond shores, river margins, stream banks, moist thickets and swales. Occasionally found in more mesic situations such as old fields, upland mixed woods, and one herbarium label stated "dry shale outcrop".


Indigenous to North America except Utah-Nevada to the Pacific Northwest.

United States -- AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VT, VA, WV, WI, WY

Canada -- MB, NB, NS, ON, PE, QC, SK?

New York Metropolitan Region -- Native, throughout the metropolitan area.

Rarity Status

Heritage global rank -- G5

Connecticut -- Not listed

New Jersey -- Not listed

New York -- Not listed

Species Biology

Flowering (May [week 1]) May [week 4] - July [week 3]

 Pollination Robertson, 1892


Apidae: Apis, Ceratina

Andrenidae: Halictus

Bombylidae: Hemipenthes

Syrphidae: Allograpta, Chrysogaster, Eristalis, Mesograpta, Syrphus

Calliphoridae: Lucilia

Anthomyidae: Chortophila



Dermestidae: Attagenus

Melyridae: Anthocomus

Cerambycidae: Euderces

Scraptiidae: Pentaria



Fruiting July [week 2] - September [week 4]


Ridley, 1930; Hidayati, 2000; Martin, 1951; Sherburne, 1972; (White, 1992)

Endozoochory -- Avian Frugivores: Phasianus colchicus (Ring-necked Pheasant), Euphagus carolinus (Rusty Blackbird), Sialia sialis (Eastern Bluebird), Passerina cyanea (Indigo Bunting), Cardinalis cardinalis (Cardinal), Dumetella carolinensis (Catbird), Icteria virens (Yellow-breasted Chat), Pheucticus ludovicianus (Rose-breasted Grosbeak), Coccothraustes vespertinus (Evening Grosbeak), Tyrannus tyrannus (Eastern Kingbird), Myiarchus crinitus (Great Crested Flycatcher), Sitta carolinensis (White-breasted Nuthatch), Sayornis phoebe (Eastern Phoebe), Turdus migratorius (Robin), Melospiza georgiana (Swamp Sparrow), Zonotrichia albicollis (White-throated Sparrow), Sturnus vulgaris (Starling), Piranga olivacea (Scarlet Tanager), Parus bicolor (Tufted Titmouse),Catharus minimus (Gray-cheeked Thrush), Catharus guttata (Hermit Thrush), Catharus ustulata (Olive-backed Thrush), Catharus fuscescens (Veery Thrush), Hylocichla mustelina (Wood Thrush), Vireo olivaceus (Red-eyed Vireo), Vireo griseus (White-eyed Vireo), Vireo philadelphicus (Philadelphia Vireo), Bombycilla cedrorum (Cedar Waxwing), Centurus carolinus (Red-bellied Woodpecker), Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Red-headed Woodpecker), Picoides villosus (Hairy Woodpecker), Sphyrapicus varius (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker), Corvus brachyrhynchos (Crow), Quiscalus quiscala (Common Grackle), Anas acuta (Pintail), Toxostoma rufum (Brown Thrasher), Colaptes auratus (Yellow-shafted Flicker), Sylvia spp. (Whitethroat)

Mammals: Tamias striatus (Chipmunk), Peromyscus spp.(White-footed Mice), Odocoileus virginicus (White-tailed Deer), Sciurus niger (Fox Squirrel)


 Schopmeyer, 1974; Rose, 1919; Davis, 1927; Hidayati, 2000

 Seeds have deep simple morphophysiological dormancy, although some early researchers reported that some seed may not be dormant. The best results have come from warm stratification followed by cold stratification in moist sand to break dormancy. Germination was best using 14 hour photoperiods at 15-25 degrees C. Germination is epigeous. Dry seed (with the pulp removed) stored in sealed containers at 41 degrees F for two years showed little or no loss of viability.