The black elder is a small and highly resistant tree with a branched trunk, fragile branches and compound leaves that are dark green and foul-smelling. Here is a more detailed portrait of this intriguing plant and how to grow it.
Note: The leaves, stems, green berries and roots of the elder are toxic. Consumption of the raw berries causes vomiting. Elders grow fast and can withstand dry or wet conditions, and poor chalky soils.
- There are several ornamental varieties, including “Aurea” with golden leaves; ‘Guincho Purple’ with purple foliage and slightly pinkish flowers; “Marginata” with cream-edged leaves and an elderberry with parsley leaves, the “Laciniata”.
Where to plant
The elder prefers a moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil, and full sun to partial shade.
- Gather fresh seeds in autumn or old stratify old seeds for four weeks.
- Otherwise, start by growing suckers, using semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer or ripe wood cuttings in late autumn.
- A good pruning in late winter benefits the ornamental varieties by encouraging the growth of new vigorous and colourful foliage.
- To maximize flowering and fruit, a light touch is needed: cut old stems and badly positioned or crossed branches.
Pests and diseases
- The elder is resistant to honey fungus. Its leaves were used to make insecticide sprays, although it can still be attacked by the black fly in spite of its repellent properties.
- Pick the berries when they are black. They freeze well. You can also make them into a syrup.
- Pick flowers on a morning without dew, lay the heads on paper towels and let them dry, in a warm, shaded place for several days.
- Using a fork, separate the flower stems from the berries as much as possible, as the stem has a bad taste.