Shrubs

Sambucus Nigra Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Black Lace”

Guide to Sambucus Nigra - Everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing and caring for "Common Elderberry" or "Black Lace"
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Sambucus Nigra is a species of flowering plants that can be found growing in North America and most regions of Europe. This plant is a species complex, which represents a group of related organisms that look so similar to one another that it is quite difficult to set some boundaries between them.

These beautiful friends are shrubs that go by many names including Black Lace, Elder(berry), Common Elderberry, Black Elder, European Elder(berry), Judas Tree, and Blue or Black Elderberry. Common Elderberry plants have gained their popularity thanks to their lovely appearance and the important uses in traditional industries, culture, and medicine.

Both the berries and the flowers have a long history in several culinary recipes. Their blue or purple berries are edible and gathered to make wine, pies, syrup, and jam. They had a well-known value to Native Americans, who dried the berries and used them to cook a rich sauce without any sweetening added. Their clustered flowers are often dipped in batter and fried, but the petals can be eaten raw or used to prepare a fragrant and tasty tea.

All parts of the Common Elderberry shrubs are considered highly valuable by many traditional folks. It is believed that their flowers can improve the immunity system and also reduce congestion, bleeding, or digestive problems. Moreover, both berries and flowers are diuretic and can aid rheumatism and arthritis.

About Common Elderberry

  • The curious specific epithet “nigra” is the Latin for “black. This name refers to the deeply dark-colored berries produced by Common Elderberry plants.
  • When prepared as a tea, Elderberry flowers can be used as a treatment for headaches, dry fevers, colds, indigestion, rheumatism, kidney infections, and many other conditions.
  • In the middle ages, Common Elderberry shrubs were considered a Holy Tree. Many people believed that they were an aid to longevity, with an ability to restore good health and maintain it.
  • The wood of these plants is quite hard and has been used as an excellent material for pegs, spindles, and combs. The hollow stems played a big part in the manufacture of whistles and flutes.
  • In their natural habitat, Common Elderberry plants provide shelter and support to many wildlife species. For example, their roots create a habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.
  • Some species of animals, like bears, squirrels, game birds, white deers, or elks, love to feed on their berries and foliage. They are also an important source of food for many songbirds.
  • These shrubs can grow without any problem in a large variety of environmental conditions, such as both dry fertile and wet soils. Due to this feature, they can be grown among many other species of plants.
  • There are a lot of pests that may enjoy infesting their foliage, roots, or branches. While caring for Elderberry plants, take some time to inspect them for intruders.
  • Their roots, stems, leaves, and unripe fruits can be all very toxic to humans and pets. For safety purposes, it is recommended you grow these plants in a “sneaky” place.
Sambucus Nigra
Sambucus Nigra

Common Elderberry Features: An Overview

  • Nigra belongs to the Sambucus genus that contains over 25 species of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae.
  • Common Elderberry plants are deciduous shrubs or small trees that can reach up to 20 feet (6 m) in height and width. In their natural habitat, some specimens have grown as tall as 33 feet (10 m).
  • When they are younger, the bark appears in a light green tone. With age, the color of the bark changes to a coarse grey, presenting prominent lenticels and lengthwise furrowing.
  • These shrubs produce pinnate leaves of 3.9 to 11.8 inches (10-30 cm) long that are arranged in opposite pairs. They usually have five to nine leaflets with serrated margins.
  • During their blooming period, from late spring to mid-summer, Elderberry plants exhibit large corymb inflorescences that measure between 3.9 and 9.8 inches (10-25 cm) in diameter.
  • The tiny, individual flowers grow in clusters and contain five petals with an ivory white tone. They attract flies and butterflies very often.
  • In late autumn, their flowers are followed by many clusters of fruits. These plants bear glossy, rounded, and 0.1 to 0.2 inches (3-5 mm) in diameter berries that come in various shades of blue, purple, and even fully black.
  • The seeds of Elderberry plants can be collected and used in propagation. They must be sowed and kept in a warm, shaded location.
Black Lace
Black Lace

Growing Common Elderberry

There is no surprise that Common Elderberry behaves like a regular species of shrubs. This plant will thrive with minimal care both indoors and outdoors, making it an excellent choice for any type of gardener, especially beginners. Once it has settled in its new environment, your shrub will be with you for the long haul!

Light-wise, Elderberry plants can withstand a wide range of conditions. They will grow at their best when they are exposed to plenty of morning sun with some shade in the afternoon. If you live in a region with harsh sunlight, it is mandatory to provide your plants with shade in the second part of the day.

These shrubbies will tolerate any temperature values and humidity levels all-year-round. Elderberry plants prefer mid-cool to slightly warm temperatures between 39 and 68 °F (4-20 °C). They can also handle extreme conditions well, but exposure for prolonged periods must be avoided if you want them to bloom and produce fruits.

Planting Common Elderberry

Common Elderberry shrubs are nice houseplants if you live in a zone that tends to be moist or wet. Thus, you should plant your shrubs in soil that has good drainage to avoid over-watering and root rot. These plants do well in soils with pH ranging from acidic to alkaline, but it is suggested to look for slightly acidic soil.

Before planting these shrubs, make sure you amend the soil with compost to ensure healthy growth. After that, Common Elderberry plants will benefit from regular fertilizing with compost once every year in spring.

Due to their sporadic growth, Elderberry plants tend to form a lot of suckers. If you want to maintain a certain size or shape for your shrubs, you have to prune it regularly. The whole process is quite simple and consists mostly of removing unhealthy, damaged, old, or dead branches in early spring.

Black elder
Black elder

Watering Common Elderberry

Like most species of shrubs, Common Elderberry plants have no high expectations when it comes to watering. In general, they are getting the needed amount of water from rainfalls. But if you live in a dry region where rainfalls are scarce or absent, it is your time to intervene in their watering routine.

When growing Elderberry plants outdoors, they should be irrigated regularly for optimal growth and fruit production. They are pretty thirsty plants that require about one inch (2.5 cm) of water once every week. However, make sure you always check the soil in-between waterings to avoid waterlogging or soggy conditions. If you grow your plants in a container, provide them with water whenever the top layer of soil feels dry to the touch.

Propagating Common Elderberry

Nothing can be more satisfying than to watch your plants blooming and bearing lovely fruits. And Common Elderberry shrubs are no different! With their alluring appearance and easy-going style, these plants are keepers and can also make for an interesting gift for your family and friends. Not to mention that their flowers and fruits can be used in so many ways that you should prepare yourself spiritually before the beginning of spring.

Luckily, Elderberry plants can be propagated pretty easily through softwood cuttings. They respond well to this process when the branches are young and only if the cuttings are taken in spring. Look for healthy branches and cut about 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) off them and remove all the leaves from the bottom half. However, make sure you leave one or two sets of leaves at the top of the branches.

The cuttings must be soaked in water for about 12-24 hours before planting them into the growing medium. After this period, fill a container with equal parts of peat moss and sand and combine the mixture with water until the soil is completely damp. Transplant your cuttings in the substrate and cover the pot with a plastic bag to create a greenhouse-like effect.

Place the container in a warm area where your cuttings can receive plenty of bright and indirect light. For optimal results, you should mist the cuttings whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. With proper care, the cuttings should develop a healthy root system after six weeks or so from planting. Once this period has passed, your baby Elderberry plants are ready to be transplanted into their individual growing mediums.

In Conclusion

Common Elderberry plants are so popular nowadays that you cannot afford to miss a gorgeous piece like them! Not only do these shrubs look splendid and very familiar, but they are also very low-maintenance in almost any environment and growing conditions. And with their well-known and widespread uses, you should already look for some delicious recipes to try out this year!

Are you growing Elderberry? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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