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Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea (Blue elderberry)
Sturla, Gene

Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea

Sambucus nigra L. ssp. cerulea (Raf.) R. Bolli

Blue Elderberry, Blue Elder, Blueberry Elder, Mexican Elder, Arizona Elderberry, New Mexico Elderberry, Velvet-leaf Elderberry, Hairy Blue Elderberry

Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)

Synonym(s): Sambucus caerulea, Sambucus caerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus caerulea var. velutina, Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca, Sambucus mexicana ssp. caerulea, Sambucus mexicana ssp. cerulea, Sambucus mexicana var. caerulea, Sambucus mexicana var. cerulea, Sambucus neomexicana, Sambucus neomexicana var. vestita, Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea, Sambucus velutina


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

A large shrub or small tree, blue elder grows 6-24 ft. tall with flat-topped clusters of fragrant, creamy flowers followed by black berries which develop a white waxy bloom making the fruit appear blue when fully mature. Deciduous leaves are pinnately compound and somewhat persistent.

The sweetish berries are used in preserves and pies but should never be eaten when fresh and raw. Lewis and Clark first reported Blue Elder as an alder with pale, sky blue berries. A remedy for fever has been concocted from the bark. Blue Elderberry is planted as an ornamental for the numerous whitish flowers and bluish fruits.


Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Opposite
Leaf Complexity: Pinnate
Leaf Shape: Lanceolate , Oblong
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous , Tomentose
Leaf Margin: Serrate , Serrulate
Leaf Apex: Acuminate
Leaf Base: Rounded
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Inflorescence: Compound Cyme
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: To about 23 feet in height.
Leaf: Leaf bases are strongly assymetrical.
Flower: Flowers are borne on flat-topped or somewhat hemispheric compound cymes.
Fruit: A berry-like black drupe, often with a dense, waxy, white bloom which makes some or most of the fruits appear blue when fully mature.
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep
Bloom Notes: Flowers are usually creamy white or pale yellowish.


USA: AZ , CA , CO , ID , MT , NM , NV , OR , TX , UT , WA , WY
Canada: BC
Native Distribution: CA Sierras & Coast Ranges to s. B.C., e. to Alt. & NM.
Native Habitat: Cool, moist, open places up to 10,000 ft.

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Description: Moist, rich, rocky, well drained soils.
Conditions Comments: Pruning improves form.


Use Ornamental: Can be grown as a large landscape plant.
Use Wildlife: Birds, bears, deer, elk and moose feed on the drupes.
Use Food: Edible fruit.
Warning: All parts except mature fruits are poisonous. Fruits are edible when cooked.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate , Minimal
Poisonous: yes


Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea


Record Modified: 2015-11-17
Research By: JAM

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