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Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is a medium to large shrub in the Caprifoliaceae, or honeysuckle, family. It is clonal forming and produces dense thickets when it is in its preferred habitat. It reaches a height of 15 feet at maturity and becomes tree-like in stature.

The branches are weak and tend to be arching, especially when they are heavy with fruit.

Its preferred habitat is wet hammocks, shallow ponds, stream banks, margins of swamps, and disturbed sites. It can be grown in the home landscape with a little extra watering. Don Robinson grows elderberry in the sandhills of Spring Hill and has it attain almost champion size. So don't be afraid to try it in locations other than its preferred habitat.

Its leaves are opposite and pinnately compound. The leaflets are toothed and found in numbers of 5-9. The lower leaves may be trifoliate.

The small white flowers are born in flat topped clusters. They tend to bloom all year, but their peak blooming time seems to be summer. The flowers are edible and can be used in pancakes and cornbread. The petioles and stems, and uncooked fruit and flowers, can make you ill so use only the flowers.

The small purple-black fruit hangs in clusters. The berries are eaten by birds and mammals, as well as humans. Elderberry fruit has been used for pies, jellies, jams, and wines for years. The berries should be cooked before ingesting.

by Sharon LaPlante


Austin, Dan. Coastal Dune Plants. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center of South Palm Beach County, Inc. 1991 (illustration)

Nelson, Gil. The Shrubs & Woody Vines of Florida. Pineapple Press: Sarasota, FL 1996

Radford, Albert E., H. E. Ahles and C. R. Bell. Manual of Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill, NC. 1964

Scurlock, J. Paul. Native Trees and Shrubs of the Florida Keys. Laurel & Herbert, Inc.: Sugarloaf Shores, FL. 1996


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