Black Elderberry

Sambucus canadensis

My Species Story

When we moved back to Louisiana in 2020, I struggled to adapt to our new semi-suburban, quarter-mile street that was more or less cut off from the rest of the surrounding area by deep ditches and a lack of sidewalks along the main road nearby. For the last two and a half years, we'd lived just a mile or so walk from Iwetemlaykin, a beautiful local natural area where I learned to reconnect with nature and the home of my budding naturalism.

After a few weeks of feeling this disconnect and struggling with majorly stressful life events and projects at my job, it all became too much and I was pulled outside to walk this little quarter mile stretch every morning as long as it took for me to sort of regulate for the day. It was also covered in litter, the most of which seemed to have come from our neighbors just dumping their trash in the ditch across from their house.

So I started walking, and picking up trash, and noticing all of these plants that were thriving along the ditch and especially at the end of the street around the cul-de-sac, where the ditch met up with a bit larger creek running through the area. Along that creek bed were several thriving Black Elderberry bushes.

The huge clumps of white flowers that gave way to gorgeous deep-purple berries caught my eye and my heart, and I would look forward to seeing how they progressed every day, and what different birds I would find on them. It was in these bushes that I saw my first Wilson's Warbler and American Redstart, among many other species (over 100) that I would eventually tally on our little street.

After moving out to the Landry Property in late 2021, I spent the first year there identifying over 200 native plant species around the property, but shockingly didn't find any Black Elderberry. Considering it thrives just about everywhere in South Louisiana, its absence was notable and surprising. In the Spring of 2023, however, I started to find little baby elderberries here and there, and particularly toward the creek on the South End of the property. After commenting on this to a few naturalist friends, I learned that the deer absolutely adore Black Elderberrry and will chew up the small plants like candy. Aha! Now I knew that our resident deer were almost certainly the cause of its conspicuous absence.

I tried to protect some, and I brought in a couple of cultivars to plant in the South Meadow area, but pretty much all of them got hit hard by the deer, especially once the 2023 Drought set in. I did, however, eventually find one mature Elderberry along the eastern drainage ditch, blocked off enough by surrounding shrubs and brambles that it was able to get established — and was probably the source, via birds, of all of those baby plants I'd found in the Spring.

My love of the plant and my love of iNaturalist came together in one of my first big identifying efforts on the site, where I filled out the Flowering Phenology for every Black Elderberry in the state of Louisiana to try to get a clearer picture of how it progresses throughout the year: https://daniel.observer/journal/inaturalist-black-elderberry-phenology

I still hope to get a few more Elderberry established here, but they may need to be a little closer to the human structures to protect them, or might need to be fenced off for a few years until they get big enough to withstand browsing.

External Resources

iNaturalist - Black Elderberry Phenology

Plants of Louisiana (warcapps)

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center