Sambucus nigra, The Elder Tree

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)Sambucus nigra, the European Elder also known as the Black Elder or Elderberry. This small tree is as well known for it’s purple/black fruit as for it’s froth of white flowers.

Elder berries (Sambucus nigra)It is one of the first trees to come into leaf with new leaves appearing in early March.

Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)The leaves are made up of five and sometimes seven leaflets on a central stem, with opposite pairs and one at the tip of the stem. The leaflets are longer than they are wide and have a toothed edge.

Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)

Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)This next picture is of one leaf, comprising and showing the arrangement of five leaflets. That is important to understand because a single leaflet or leaf, that is this shape would not indicate an Elder, each leaf is composed of five leaflets, sometimes seven and rarely nine.

Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)The woody stem of Elder is also quite distinctive.

A fresh stem is usually covered in small pale warts, these are called lenticels. They are sometimes described as breathing pores and allow the tree to exchange gasses.

Elder stem (Sambucus nigra)You will pretty much always see some branches marked with these distinctive lenticels on a live Elder.

Elder stem (Sambucus nigra)

Elder stem (Sambucus nigra)Older bark becomes furrowed and the breathing pores are not noticeable then.

Elder bark (Sambucus nigra)

Elder (Sambucus nigra)The Elder is a short lived tree, not more than about 60 years. It is also quite small and shrub like. I have read that it can attain a height of twenty feet or more but it is usually smaller than that.

Legend has it that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an Elder tree. I think that this is unlikely, for hanging you really need a tree that is taller than you with sturdy horizontal branches, like an Oak or a Chestnut. It is more likely that this defamation by association is the work of the Christian Church in the battle against Paganism because the Elder once held great spiritual importance.

You wouldn’t have much luck, hanging yourself in one of these.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)However the association stuck and the small jelly fungus that grows on the Elder became known as Judas’s Ear and later just Jew’s Ear.

Jelly Ear Fungus Jelly Ear Fungus   Jelly Ear Fungus   Jelly Ear Fungus It is now more often referred to as Jelly Ear or Wood Ear, Auricularia auricula-judae.

Jelly Ear FungusThe flowers arrive in May.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)A flower head may consist of several hundred small flowers. The flowers are hermaphrodite. Each flower has five white petals, five stamens tipped with yellow anthers and a style with three stigmas.

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)The flowers produce nectar and pollen and are much loved by Bumble Bees.

White-tailed Bumblebee White-tailed Bumblebee   White-tailed Bumblebee   White-tailed Bumblebee Too much sometimes….. (It is not dead, just too drunk to stand up)

White-tailed BumblebeeThe fruit ripens in August.

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

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Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)When it is ripe the birds eat it.

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)The Elder is a valuable wildlife plant. It provides shelter for birds and forage for deer. Many small mammals (including Dormice) eat both the flowers and the fruit. It is a larval food plant for several British moths including the White Spotted Pug, Swallowtail, Dot Moth and Buff Ermine. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for many insects and birds also eat the fruit.

Despite it’s reputation for Elderflower tea and fritters and Elderberry wine all of the green parts and the fruit are mildly poisonous to us. The fruit needs to be cooked before eating.

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)This tree is a member of the same family as the diminutive, green wildflower, Town Hall Clock (The Adoxaceae)

Town Hall Clock

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)Taxonomy

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Dipsacales

Family: Adoxaceae

Genus: Sambucus

Species: Sambucus Nigra

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)Back to White Wildflowers

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