The photo above shows black elederberry as seen at the Hat Pt. Lookout Tower in Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area.........June 26, 2007.
Black elderberry is a tall shrub to small tree with one to many stems arising from the base to 1-4 meters in height. The twigs are thick with soft wood and a pithy central area. The outer surface of the younger twigs is often glaucous. The leaves are pinnately-compound with 5-7 elliptic to lanceolate leaflets which taper to a point at the tip and are rounded, but somewhat asymmetrical at their base. The leaves are a shiny green above and a duller green with pubescence below. The leaflets range from 5-15 cm long.
The inflorescence is a hemispheric panicle that is rounded on top, broader than long, and somewhat like an umbel, but not as broad as the inflorescence of blue elderberry. The creamy or white flowers are 3-6 mm across with the corolla lobes spreading to somewhat reflexed. The fruit are shiny black or purple-black berries.
The black elderberry contains high levels of hydrocyanic acid which can lead to cyanide poisoning if consumed. I've seen some books that say the berries are safe to consume if the the seeds are strained out, but I would caution not to eat the fruits of this plant!
The various species of elderberry are all suitable as large shrubs for native woodland or riparian plantings. Be aware however, that birds upon eating the fruits, will soon be spreading the seeds to new, hopefully desirable locations!
Black elderberry may be found in moist woods, moist roadside ditches, and riparian areas.
Black elderberry may be found from central British Columbia south to the east of the Cascade Mts to the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mts in California and east to Alberta and south through the Rocky Mts to Nevada, and northern Arizona and northern New Mexico.
Red Elderberry: Sambucus racemosa var. arborescens - Fruits mostly bright red. Leaflets pubescent beneath (often only on the midrib or main veins). Found primarily west of the Cascade crest.
Blue Elderberry: Sambucus cerulea -