Monday, August 3, 2009
American Elder (Sambucus canadensis), or Elderberry as it is referred to in Missouri is a common shrub found throughout the Eastern Portion of the United States. This shrub is native to North America and can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from wet to dry soils. They seem to prefer full sun. They spread by underground suckers. They reach heights from 10-15 feet, the leave are made up of 5 to 9 thin leaflets. Late in the spring or early summer there are large clusters of blooms made up of tiny white flowers. These flowers give way to berries late in the summer or early fall. The berries are edible and used for many things, from jam, to wine to juice. All other parts of the plant or shrub are poisonous. The leaves and inner bark can be used as a dye or an insecticide. Studies on this native shrub are currently going on at The University of Missouri's southwest center in Mount Vernon as well as at the Missouri State Fruit Experimentation Center in Fountain Grove. Songbirds are responsible in large part for the spread of Elderberries, they eat the delicious berries and leave their berry laden droppings in other areas. These shrubs can spread rapidly and in no time can form dense curtains of thick berry filled shrubs. They have a tendency to outgrow the area where they are growing, so plan accordingly if you choose to plant them in your yard. They respond well to pruning, which will keep them under control. I have one in my yard that needs serious pruning. The birds use it for nesting as well as for food so I am happy to have it in the yard. I keep saying I am going to pick the berries before the birds get to them and make jam, maybe this will be the year.