Elder Tree Facts

Written by carly reynolds
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Elder Tree Facts
Elder trees produce berries that attract wildlife. (Elder-berry image by nata_rass from Fotolia.com)

The American Elder (Sambucus canadensis) tree is an ornamental shrub or small tree that is commonly used in residential and commercial landscapes throughout the United States. This plant is ideal for areas with wildlife because the berries are enjoyed by more than 40 different species of birds, as well as squirrels, woodchucks and mice.


Elder plants are considered a fast-growing shrub or small tree because of their ability to grow in excess of 25 inches annually. The Elder matures to a height of 5 to 12 feet and a width equal to the height. This rounded shrub responds well to pruning and can be trimmed to form a single-stemmed tree.

Flowers and Fruit

The elder tree produces numerous clusters of white or pale yellow flowers in the summer. Each cluster measures 6 to 10 inches in width and contains an abundance of star-shaped flowers. Once the flowers have bloomed, the elder tree yields berries that are dark purple in colour. These edible berries attract birds and other forms of local wildlife.


Elder trees thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9, making it suitable for almost every climate within the United States. This shrub should be planted in full sunlight. Elder trees grow well in a variety of well-drained, acidic soils, including loamy, sandy, silty and clay soils. Although the plant prefers moist to wet conditions, it is moderately tolerant of drought conditions.


Elder trees should be provided with 1 inch of water weekly for 1 year from the date of planting. Proper watering during the first year will help the root system grow and help the shrub or tree establish itself in the landscape. Once this year has passed, the natural water from rainfall should be sufficient. This low-maintenance plant does not require fertilisation unless it is planted in unfavourable soil conditions.


Elder trees are suitable as a border plant and can be planted along property lines, sidewalks and car parks. The summer display of white or pale yellow flowers makes this an attractive addition to any landscape. Naturally, Elder trees can be found in wet areas such as bogs, marshes and wooded areas.

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