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A Native Shrub Blooming in May.

May 18, 2013

Elderberry

In the May woods in Ohio, one can see an encouraging sign- good numbers of a particular native shrub flowering.

This is encouraging because invasive species tend to be quite numerous.  In the shrub world, the hands-down most abundant invasive in Ohio is Honeysuckle.  I looked at this prolific bush a couple years ago, and it’s long overdue to bring you some better news.

Invasives tend to crowd out native species.  But in Ohio, a native shrub is holding its own.  This is the month to see it blooming.

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The common name for this shrub is Elderberry, though it is also known as Black/Common/American Elder (as usual, there are different varieties).  This plant can be considered a shrub or a small tree, growing up to 20 feet high (and 15-20 feet wide).  It is often found along wood edges, under power lines and along fences, and even in partially sunny woodland.  The main reason for this is because this is where birds pass the seeds from its fruit.

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The flowers are dense clusters of white blooms- very pretty.  They are pollinated by flies.

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The flowers grow upon a large flat structure called a corymb that arranges them in a pleasant geometrical order.

Elderberry is not only a wild plant, but it is also favored by gardeners and landscapers.  It’s not just for the flowers, either.

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In the autumn, berries will replace flowers.

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The purple berries are welcomed not only by birds and other wildlife, but by people as well- preserves, pies and wine can be made from them.

Be careful though- Elderberry is rather toxic apart from the ripe berries.  Always be careful when eating plants, because natural can still be harmful.

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Native Americans used Elderberry for medicinal uses, and it is still used in home remedies, particularly for respiratory problems.  Care should be taken due to toxicity.

Flower heads can be consumed in infusions or teas.  A study found that Elderberry may be effective in treating the flu.

Maybe those native and home remedies were on to something!

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This plant is enjoyable to see, and because it’s a successful native shrub, it is doubly good to encounter.

If you see one flowering, make a note of it and then look for the berries in the autumn.  Look quickly though, before the birds get them.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2013 1:22 am

    Your photos and background information was superb, thank you.

  2. May 19, 2013 8:47 am

    Thank you for an informative post! I wonder if they are cultivated as well, to provide the basis for the elderberry jam I love so much?

    • May 19, 2013 12:36 pm

      Thanks! I think they are cultivated some. Also, they make for great cover and a food source for wildlife, many landscapers tend to favor native plants, so these shrubs are quite popular in yards.

  3. May 19, 2013 9:21 am

    Lovely! We have elder bushes here too, though ours are later than yours in blooming. Everything is late this year!

  4. May 19, 2013 7:02 pm

    Yours bloom quite a bit earlier than ours. I haven’t even seen an elderberry with buds yet. There are some beautiful dark purple leaved elderberries that have pink flowers. One, called ‘black lace,” grows in my yard.

    • May 19, 2013 10:00 pm

      Wow! They’re really blooming here now, Gardener. By the middle of this month we’ve been getting into ‘summer mode’ here- the leaf canopy is fully fleshed out, and summer things are coming out. This last few weeks has moved pretty fast botanically speaking.

  5. May 19, 2013 9:53 pm

    My mom used to make elderberry jelly. It was my favorite! This is the first time I’ve seen what it looks like.

  6. May 19, 2013 10:07 pm

    Very nice photos of the blossoms! We also have elderberry here, but ours are far from the blooming stage.

    • May 19, 2013 10:40 pm

      Thanks Montucky- interesting how different areas of the country have different spring schedules!

  7. May 19, 2013 11:11 pm

    Hi Seasons, We had Elder in Tn where I last lived. I have not seen any here in Marion County, FL where I now have my home. Great pictures by the way. Have a wonderful coming week!

  8. May 25, 2013 9:28 pm

    Great post, Tracy! We had two huge elderberry bushes at the side of our barn on the family farm. The berries are small but made great jelly and wine. Wonderful shrubs; thanks for featuring them!

  9. Diane Chance permalink
    May 2, 2016 8:00 pm

    Would love to buy some to replace the Chinese honeysuckle that we are trying to get rid of. So far I have not been able to find any at the local nurseries. Can you recommend a nursery in southern or central Ohio that would have these? Thanks.

    Diane

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