When does the elderberry tree bloom? Which varieties of elderberry are there? What do you need to know about caring for and propagating elderberries? We reveal the best tricks. The elder tree was already a valued food and medicine in the Middle Ages. Out of respect for the valuable plant, men would take off their hats when they passed an elder tree. And even today, the elderberry is very popular due to its beautiful flowers and diverse uses.
Elderberry: origin and characteristics
Elder ( Sambucus ) refers to a genus of plants in the musk herb family ( Adoxaceae ). There are around 40 species worldwide that range from the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere to the tropical zones of the southern hemisphere. Three types of elder are native to Central Europe. The best known among them is certainly the black elder ( Sambucus nigra ), which is usually briefly referred to as elder and, depending on the region, is also known as “lilac bush”, “elder” or “holder”.
It is a strongly branched, round-crowned, fast-growing wood, the branches of which overhang strongly. Depending on its location, the elder grows into a large bushy shrub or small tree and, without regular pruning, reaches a height of around six to even ten meters and a width of a maximum of four meters. The bark of the young elderberry bush is light beige to grayish and smooth. With increasing age, a clearly recognizable layer of cork forms on the trunk and thick branches. The green leaves of the black elder are made up of five to seven single sawn leaves and are pinnate unpaired. They are opposite and often sprout as early as late February to early March.
The elder heralds early summer with its blossoms. The numerous small, five-petalled single flowers stand close together in broad panicles. Insects find valuable food in the elderflower. If the elderflowers are not harvested for processing into elderflower syrup, for example, the pollinated flowers will turn into purple-black, round elderberries in late summer. From a botanical point of view, they are stone fruits that ripen at the end of September to October and can be harvested and processed. Since the fruit is a valuable source of food for birds, you should always leave enough fruit for the chirping garden dwellers.
Elderflowers: when does the elderflower?
The dense, white flowers of the elder usually bloom in June. In climatically favorable locations, flowering sometimes begins as early as May.
Elderberry species and varieties
In addition to the black elder, the bush-shaped red elder ( Sambucus racemosa ) and the dwarf elder ( Sambucus ebulus ) are native to Germany. Within these species, some different varieties differ in flower and leaf color, as well as in leaf shape, height, and fruit size.
- ′ Haschberg ′: large fruity variety; broad growth; fragrant and insect-friendly flowers; 3 – 5 m high; used in fruit growing
- ‘Black Beauty’: a special eye-catcher; brown-red, shiny foliage; pink-white flowers smelling of lemon; purple-black fruits; up to 3 m high
- ‘Black Lace’: foliage initially green-red, later dark red and slightly shiny; slotted sheet; pink buds turn into pinkish-white flowers with a lemon scent; juicy black fruits; 2 – 3.5 m high
- ‘Golden Tower’: Yellow-leaved columnar elder; columnar growth; yellow-green foliage, deeply incised leaves; white, racemose flowers; 1.5 – 2.5 m high; also suitable as a potted plant
- ‘Black Tower’: red-leaved columnar elder; columnar growth; black-red, glossy leaves; pink-white flowers with lemon scent; attracts butterflies; purple-black fruits; up to 2 m in height
- ‘Purpurea’: red-leaved elder; bushy growth; dark red foliage, greener again towards autumn; white flowers; 3 – 5 m high
- ‘Marginata’: white variegated foliage; Risk of sunburn in places that are very exposed to the sun
The red elder, also called deer or grape elder, stays lower than the black elder. The leaf looks very similar to that of the black elder but usually consists of fewer individual leaves. As the name suggests, the fruits turn red as they ripen – unlike black elderberries.
- ‘Sutherland Gold’: Fern-leaved golden elder; upright, bushy growth; golden-yellow foliage; Flowering period: late April to late May; white flowers; Red fruits; 2 – 3 m high
- ‘Plumosa’: severely incised leaves; Red fruits; 2 – 3 m high
- ′ Plumosa Aurea ′: Fern-leaved golden elder; bushy growth; Leaves severely incised; Foliage first purple, then yellow; Red fruits; 2 – 3 m high
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The dwarf elder is also called perennial elder, attach, and sometimes wild elder. This is an herbaceous species that only reaches heights of about two meters compared to the shrubby species of the elderberry. Its flowers bloom between June and July in white to light pink and have an intense fragrance. The leaves of the dwarf elder are larger than those of the species described above. They grow to be about eight inches long and are roughly toothed.
Planting elderberries: tips for the garden and balcony
The elder feels at home in a sunny or partially shaded location as well as in the shade. It is a very undemanding plant and thrives in almost any soil. But it feels particularly at home on moist, humus-rich and calcareous soils. The optimal planting time is in autumn or at the beginning of spring. You can find more information and practical tips on planting the elderberry bush in our special article on elderberry plants.
Care for elderberries
The elder is a very easy-to-care-for and frugal wood and does not require extensive care.
After planting, the elder should be watered regularly so that it forms many roots and grows well. Older plants, on the other hand, hardly need to be watered;
When planting the elder, you should enrich the soil in the planting hole with compost or a slow-release fertilizer. When it has grown, the elderberry bush does not need any further fertilizers.
Regular pruning is necessary to keep the elder bush in shape and to prevent the wood from aging quickly. You can find out how to do this in our special article on cutting elderberries.
The reproduction of elderberry succeeds in different ways. The sowing of elderberry seeds is very laborious and tedious. Cuttings or cuttings are much easier. When propagating by cuttings, shoots 10 to 15 centimeters long are cut at the end of June, which have at least one pair of leaves at the top and should already be slightly woody at the bottom. All leaves and flower roots except for the upper leaves are removed and the cuttings are then placed about three centimeters deep in a container with potting soil. Place the containers with the cuttings in a bright place without direct sunlight and always keep the soil moist so that the cuttings can form roots and grow.
Propagation by cuttings works similarly, but the cuttings are only cut in late autumn or winter. During this time the elderberry bush is in hibernation. Cut shoot pieces about ten centimeters long that have a few buds at the top. Put the sticks deeper into the earth than when propagating cuttings. Only about three centimeters should protrude from the earth. Overwinter the cuttings in a light, frost-free place and keep the soil moist.
Is Elderberry Poisonous?
All three types of elderberry named here are poisonous. Your plant parts contain poisonous hydrocyanic acid glycosides such as sambunigrin. It is released in gaseous form when the leaves are crushed or the shoots are injured. The poison can cause headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting, among other things. The black and the red elder are considered to be slightly toxic, whereas the red elder has a higher content of toxic substances. The dwarf elder is the most poisonous of the three types of elder and should not be consumed under any circumstances. Therefore, be careful not to confuse the types of elderberry before harvesting the fruits.
While elderflowers can be processed into elderflower syrup or the like without special treatment and then consumed, the ripe elderberries must first be heated before processing and consumption. You should therefore not eat unripe and raw fruits, as the toxic substances are only rendered harmless by heat treatment. It should be noted that the kernels in the fruits of the red elder are still poisonous even after exposure to heat and should be removed before consumption.