Black Lace for the Elders
Common Name: Black Lace Elderberry
Botanical Name: Sambucus
Cultivar Series: The Black Lace series includes Laced Up & Black Beauty
Plant Type: deciduous shrub
Mature Size: 6 to 8 feet tall and wide
Hardiness Zone: 5 to 7
Foliage: deeply lobed, deep purple almost black
Flowers: fragrant, lemon scented, showy, cream coloured with a pink tinge, tiny flowers in flat clusters (umbels)
Fruit: edible berries (drupes) contain 3 to 5 seeds, blackish-red in autumn
Exposure: sun to part shade, but best in full sun
Soil: soil tolerant but prefers moist, humusy soils, mulch
Uses: attracts butterflies, birds, pollinators, hedge, thicket, marginal water plant for streams, marshes and raingardens, accent, foundation, specimen, containers
Propagation: seeds, suckers, cuttings
Pruning: wait for 2 years after planting, prune in late winter cut off old stems and cut back remaining stems by half
Problems: aphids, spider mites, canker, verticillium wilt, powdery mildew, canker
Comments: Thanks to plant breeders, the common elderberry has been transformed from it’s native rambunctious self to a much better behaved, smaller version dressed in black lace.
The award-winning Black Lace elderberry series foliage is aptly named as their leaves are a deep dark purple and so finely cut, they resemble lace.
Their flowers are impressive, with dense flat flower clusters (umbels), have a pinkish-purple hue that contrasts nicely with the dark leaves.
Unlike the species elderberries, Black Lace sambucus, does not need a compatible pollinator nearby for berries to develop: Black Beauty, Instant Karma or Laced Up. They do produce suckers, but they are not as invasive as their native counterparts. And they are much smaller as they only grow to 8 feet.
The Black Lace series of elderberries becomes leggy and sparse with age. Wait for two years after planting before cutting them back. In late winter remove old, unproductive, weak and spindly stems. Finally, cut off a third from each remaining stems to keep the plant more compact and more floriferous.
The Black Lace series of elderberries prefer a moist, rich soil. Mix in a few inches of compost, SeaSoil or composted manure to the soil before planting. Mulch with 3 inches of organic mulch to prevent evaporation. In hot climates, avoid planting where they will receive hot afternoon sun.
Species and Cultivars
Elderberries are naturally gangly shrubs that are found in the wilds of North America and Europe. They grow along riverbank and lakes as they prefer moist soil. Elderberries spread quickly due to their spreading underground roots that form colonies. This gives them a reputation of being invasive, and rightly so. Plant one, and more will come.
Elderberries claim to fame are their tart berries, either black or red, depending on the species. Birds love them and spread the seeds far and wide, which also leads to it’s invasive nature.
Despite their reputation, their berries are a valuable food source for wildlife and make delicious pies, jams, jellies, juice, liqueurs and wine. They are good for you too. These tart berries are low in calories, and high in antioxidants, dietary fiber and vitamin C. Supplements are available as the health benefits of these little berries are well-known.
Not only are their berries a valuable resource for wildlife, so are their flowers. They provide nectar and pollen for many pollinators. Butterflies and other insect appreciate the flat top clusters of tiny, white fragrant flowers as they give insects a chance to rest as they feed.
Here’s a brief run-down of the different elderberries species.
European elder, black elder (S. nigra): Indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, southwestern Asia. It’s sprawling, weedy and is invasive, especially in the US Midwest. Grows from 8 to 20 feet in height and width and is found in moist to wet soils. Flowers have a musky fragrance and blossom in May to June with flat clusters (umbels) up to 10 inches across. Clusters of small, shiny black berries ripen in late summer and fall. Their dark green compound pinnate leaves grow to 10 inches and are composed of 3 to 7 smaller leaves along a central vein. The leaves have an unpleasant odor when crushed. Grows to 25 feet in height and width. Zones 4 to 7.
American black elderberry, S. canadensis is native to North America to Bolivia and is another sprawling and suckering shrub. It also likes moist to wet soils. Lemon scented flowers up to 10 inches across appear in June, which become dark purple to black berries in late summer. Grows up to 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 3 to 9.
Red elderberry, S. racemosa is indigenous to North America and Eurasia. Flower clusters appear in May and June. They are cone shaped panicles of tiny pink buds that are creamy white when they open. that appear in May to June. Bright red berries mature in late summer into fall. They grow to 20 feet in height and width. Zones 3 to 7.