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Growing Blue Elderberry: Sambucus caerulea

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Members of the Adoxaceae (elderberry) family, sambucus species are native to the northern hemisphere. Sambucus caerulea, Blue or Mexican Elderberry, is found in Western North America from Canada into Mexico. Sambucus nigra, Black Elderberry, is found in Europe and Western Asia. Sambucus canadensis, American Black Elderberry, is native to North America. S. caerulea and S. canadensis overlap ranges in Western North America. Sambucus racemosa, Red Elderberry, is found in limited pockets in the Western United States and Canada.


Form: A multi-stemmed, suckering, large shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Possibly 60 years.
Leaf retention: Drought and cold deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate to rapid.
Mature Size: 6-16' high and 8-20' wide.
Flowers: Fragrant, yellow to white, in clusters. Edible when cooked, and fried like fritters, or used to make tea or wine.
Bloom: Two months or more starting in late winter or spring, then again in late summer and fall.
Self-fruitful: No. A second plant must be present within 50'.
Years before fruiting: 2-3.
Fruit: Blue-black or purple berries, one-eighth to one-quarter inch in diameter depending on water, edible when ripe and cooked. No berries are produced without sufficient water and a companion plant.
Months for fruit to ripen: 5-15 days. Ripe when fully dark with a whitish coating.
Storage after harvest: Place in a sealed container without washing and store in a refrigerator up to 5 days, or wash and freeze, or wash and prepare for wine or to cook.
Leaves: Dark green, lance-shaped, sawtooth edged leaflets.
Stems: No thorns.
Roots: A deep taproot with an extensive root mass that produces new suckers (canes) yearly which aid in fruit production.
Cultivars of Note: There are no named cultivars of Sambucus caerulea, Blue Elderberry, as of this date.
Wildlife: Attracts birds and pollinating insects. A nesting site for hummingbirds. New growth and young plants are browsed by deer.
Toxic / Danger: All parts are poisonous except ripe, blue to purple berries and cooked flowers. Green berries are poisonous. Red berries of Red Elderberry and other species are poisonous if eaten raw but are edible when cooked.
Origin: North America.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 4-10 for Blue Elderberry, 4-8 for American Black Elderberry.
Chill hours: Very low, possibly 100-300.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun or part shade.
Drought tolerant: Yes, but loses leaves and fails to fruit.
Water once established: Monthly. Deep water once or twice a week when flowering and fruiting. Signs of insufficient water are dropped fruit and dropped leaves.
Soil: This plant is tolerant of soil types with a pH range of 6.1-7.8 (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline). It survives in soil that is well-drained with low organic content, but the best fruit production occurs in enriched, slightly acidic soil.
Prune: In late winter, during dormancy, remove dead, weak and broken canes, as well as all canes older than 3 years. Flowers and fruit develop on tips of new growth, especially on laterals of previous year's canes. After three years, canes produce few flowers.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Usually by cuttings, also seed (slow).
Uses: Ornamental, edible berries for jams, jellies, syrup and wine. Blue and purple berries can be eaten raw.


Elderberry was formerly classified as a member of the Honeysuckle family. Sambucus caerulea was formerly known as Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea. It grows wild in the southwestern mountain regions of the United States, and is used as a spring ornamental shrub in its native region.

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Elderberry: Sambucus caerulea - flowers

Elderberry: Sambucus caerulea - fruit

Elderberry: Sambucus caerulea - leaves

Elderberry: Sambucus caerulea

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Latest update: December, 2018