[Elderberries: The Genus Sambucus in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon and Washington]

Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry

Sambucus mexicana

Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca

Inflorescence of Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana (Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca)

Blue elderberry: Note broad, flat-topped inflorescence and the oppositely paired, pinnately compound leaves.

Characteristics:

Blue elderberry is a tall shrub to small tree with one to several stems arising from the base to 2-6 meters in height. The stems are soft, glaucous and hollow, with the interior hollow space often filled with a light pith like stryofoam. The leaves are pinnately compound with 5-9 lanceolate or lance-ovate leaflets which taper to a point. The margins are sharply toothed and the base of each leaflet is often unequally shaped. Individual leaflets range from 5-15 cm long and 2-6 cm wide.

The inflorescence is an umbel of many tiny white flowers. This flat-topped surface ranges from 4-20 cm in diameter. Individual flowers measure 4-7 mm across and have 5 petals. The fruits are bluish black and coated with a dense, silvery and waxy bloom of yeast. The fruits are globose in shape and measure 4-6 mm across.

Elderberry contains hydrocyanic acid which can lead to mild cyanide poisoning if consumed in large quantities. The leaves and bark contain the highest concentration of this chemical and should not be ingested. The berries of blue elderberry may be safely consumed and are used to make jams, jellies, pies and wines. In preparing these foodstuffs, one must be aware that the seeds still contain hydrocyanic acid. To remove this threat, one must thoroughly cook the berries and then strain out the seeds. The various species of elderberry are all suitable as large shrubs for native woodland or riparian plantings.


Habitat:

Blue elderberry may be found in open woods and valley bottoms from near sea level to moderate elevations in the mountains.


Range:

Blue elderberry may be found from southern British Columbia east to western Montana. It may be found southward to California in the west and through the Rocky Mts. in the east to Arizona and New Mexico.

In the Columbia River Gorge it may be found between the elevations of 100'-3700' between the Sandy River and Horsethief Butte.


Glaucous blue berries of Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana (Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca)
The photo above shows the glaucous blue berries of the blue elderberry as seen along the shores of Gillette Lake, western Columbia River Gorge.......September 12, 2007.

Inflorescence and pinnately compound leaves of Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana (Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca) - Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana (Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca)

Close-ups of the inflorescence and pinnately compound leaves as well as a habitat shot of blue elderberry as seen on slopes above the Klickitat River in the Klickitat State Wildlife Area of south-central Washington.........May 31, 2009.

Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana (Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca) - Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana (Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca)

Blue elderberry blooming at left along Major Creek about 150 meters north of Washington Highway 14, Columbia River Gorge..........May 28, 2013. The photo at right shows a cluster of berries of blue elderberryas seen in clearcuts along the Pacific Crest Trail between Bonneville Dam and Gillette Lake, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area........September 9, 2018.

A cluster of blue berries of Blue Elder, Blue Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana (Synonyms: Sambucus cerulea, Sambucus cerulea var. cerulea , Sambucus cerulea var. neomexicana, Sambucus cerulea var. velutina, Sambucus glauca)

A cluster of the glaucous-coated berries of blue elderberry as seen at the western trailhead for the Twin Tunnels about one mile east of Hood River, OR........October 13, 2010.

Paul Slichter