Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Common Elderberry - Sambucus canadensis   L.
Members of Viburnaceae:
Members of Sambucus with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Family Viburnaceae
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DistributionStatewide; found certainly in all 100 counties.

This is one of the most widespread plants in North America. It occurs from coast to coast and in all 48 lower states and across most of southern Canada.
AbundanceCommon and easily found in all parts of the state.
HabitatThis is a ubiquitous species of sunny to partly sunny wetlands, usually in rich (muddy) soils, as opposed to sandy or acidic/blackwater conditions. It is present in freshwater marshes, roadside ditches, wet thickets, open swamps, bottomlands, and lake and pond margins.
See also Habitat Account for Shoreline Shrublands
PhenologyBlooms from late April into July, and rarely later; fruits in July and August.
IdentificationThis is a deciduous shrub with opposite, compound leaves. Each leaf consists of 5-11 serrate leaflets, mostly lanceolate and sharply pointed at the tip, to an average leaflet length of 4-5” long. The lowest leaflet may be 3-parted. The opposite leaves with numerous leaflets rule out most species; ash species (Fraxinus) leaflets are entire. Common Elderberry has numerous large, slightly rounded clusters of small white flowers; the flowers are followed by blackish berries. As it is so often encountered, few people have trouble with identification.
Taxonomic CommentsNone, though one reference in 1994 includes this species as a variety within Sambucus nigra, which occurs essentially worldwide if a number of such seemingly good species are lumped into it. See Weakley (2018) for more on this controversy.

Other Common Name(s)Common Elder, American Black Elderberry, American Elder, American Elderberry, Wild Elderberry. Given that there are elderberries around the world, including Europe, perhaps American Elderberry would be the best common name to use. Of course, many people simply just use “Elderberry” as a common name, but as there is another Sambucus in North Carolina, a modifier name is strongly recommended.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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