[Elderberries: The Genus Sambucus East of the Cascade Mts. of Oregon and Washington]

Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder

Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa

Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa

Inflorescence of Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa)

The photo above shows black elederberry as seen at the Hat Pt. Lookout Tower in Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area.........June 26, 2007.

Characteristics:

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!


Habitat:

Black elderberry may be found in moist woods, moist roadside ditches, and riparian areas.


Range:

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.


Similar Species:

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 -


Berries of Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa)

The photo above shows a close-up of the dark berries and compound pinnate leaves of black elderberry as seen in talus to the southwest of Bench Lake at the eastern corner of Mt. Adams..........August 8, 2004.

Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa) - Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa)

Both of these photos show black elderberry as seen in bloom in moist, open forest directly to the west of Misery Campground in the Umatilla N.F. of southeastern Washington..........July 7, 2008. Click each photo to see enlarged versions.

Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa) - Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa)

Black elderberries with ripening fruits as seen on north-facing slopes of Lookout Mountain along the Lookout Mountain Trail #804, Ochoco National Forest...........August 10, 2014.

Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa) - Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa)

Black elderberry in bloom along Forest Service Road #2630 several hundred yards east of Pisgah Springs, southern edge of the Bridge Creek Wilderness, Ochoco National Forest........June 13, 2015.

Inflorescence of Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa) - Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa)

The photo at left shows another view of black elederberry as seen at the Hat Pt. Lookout Tower in Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area.........June 26, 2007. The photo at right shows black elderberry in bloom along the Mother Lode Trail #808A adjacent to the old mine site, Lookout Mountain, Ochoco National Forest.

Black Elderberry, Rocky Mountain Elder: Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa (Synonyms: Sambucus melanocarpa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens var. melanocarpa)

Black elderberry in bloom amidst large boulders on a talus slope along the Roads End Trail about 100 meters in from the trailhead, Strawberry Mountain Wilderness..........August 19, 2011.

Paul Slichter