Elders

European Elder European Elder Dwarf Elder European Elder

What are they?

This group of plants includes semi-woody shrubs and a herbaceous species. The elders were traditionally placed in the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) but their flowers have five regular petals and are typically carried in many-branched, flattened or domed heads. Along with the viburnums, they are now considered to be in the Adoxaceae.

Where are they found?

Our native elder is a very common sight in a wide range of habitats, with its mass of flowers being one of the highlights of country lanes in late spring, followed by its great bounty of berries in autumn. Other species are introduced and have been recorded at scattered locations in hedgerows, on roadside verges and on woodland edge.

Identification

These woody shrubs all tend to have many-branched, flattened or domed heads of small, five-petalled flowers and leaves arranged in opposite pairs. In this, they rather resemble the viburnums, but elders differ in having pinnate, not simple leaves. The elders are all rather similar in their leaves but can be told apart by the appearance of the flowerheads and berries and by whether the plant is a woody shrub or non-woody, herbaceous perennial.



European Elder      Sambucus nigra

Native and very common throughout the region in all types of wooded and scrubby habitats, hedgerows and rough places. Flowers June to July. A shrub to 10m in height but often much less. Bark corky and soft and plants often remain somewhat semi-woody, without forming a long-lasting stem.

European Elder European Elder European Elder European Elder
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European Elder European Elder European Elder European Elder
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Dwarf Elder      Sambucus ebulus

Introduced, perhaps originally for medicinal uses. Scattered here and there on grassy roadside banks and beside railways; most frequent in NE Norfolk. Flowers July to August. Grows as a herbaceous perennial (to about 1.5m in height) and dies down each autumn. Plants in the UK often produce little fruit and tend to spread more often via vegetative means. Some colonies are long-lived and may extend for 50m along a roadside verge. The dark red-purple anthers of the flowers distinguish this species from other elders in our region.

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Red-berried Elder      Sambucus racemosa

Introduced as a garden ornamental from populations that are native to mainland Europe, Asia and North America. Rather rare as a bird-sown plant from garden stock or occasionally where planted for Pheasant food. Recently, widely planted in a cut-leaved, golden form and this form has been noted in the wider countryside on occasion. Flowers May to July. A shrub to around 5m in height. Differs from our native elder in its flowers carried in globular clusters (not flat heads) an in its red berries. A golden, cut-leaved selection is often sold under the name 'Sutherland Gold' and is widely used in amenity plantings.

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'Sutherland Gold'
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