Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Elderberry

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Elderberry
Scientific Name:Sambucus mexicana
Family:Caprifoliaceae
Plant Type:Tree
Size:up to 25 feet
Habitat:woodlands, open areas and chaparral
Blooms:April to August

Elderberry is a shrub whose showy blossoms in late spring turn over to clusters of bluish-purple, edible berries in late summer. The tiny, creamy-white, 5-petalled flowers occur in flat-topped bunches from April to August. The bunches are up to 8 inches wide and can be seen from quite a distance. The pea-size berries that follow are used in making jams, pies and wine. Many kinds of birds flock to the fruit and bees frequent the flowers. The leaflets have toothed edges and are about 2 inches long, arranged on branches that are opposite and pinnately compound. The base of the plant usually is multi-trunked.

It is said that aside from the berries, the other parts of the plant are considered poisonous, and contact can cause certain discomforts such as nausea or worse. Nonetheless, native people did find a number of other uses. The flowers, when dried, made a tea for soothing fevers and flu, and were also applied to the skin to relieve itching or ease the pain of sprains. In addition to eating the berries, they were also used as dye. Roots, bark and leaves have diuretic properties. Roots and bark were also used to ease constipation. The branches and trunk were used to make bows, and in hollowing them out they formed a flute-like musical instrument. The species name Sambucus refers to a musical instrument called a sambuke.

Contributed by Liz Baumann


Originally featured: August 2008
Last modified: May 14 2017 03:00:14.
References:
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves