PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm


Elderberries were in the spotlight in June when they were in flower. Now that they are covered in ripe berries, we can’t help shouting about them again.
Here are the basics – Superfood for humans, superfood for birds, superfood for bees, flowers are made into a lovely syrup & can be fried & eaten as tempura, beautiful in flower, beautiful in fruit, graceful & majestic in form, grows happily in sun or shade, whistles can be made of the the hollow branches, makes nice lightweight & strong walking sticks, can be sheared into a screening hedge, very fast growing…

If you are human, do not eat any part except the berries.

So, all that being said, there are four typical types you’ll find in nurseries or in the wild around here:

  • Sambucus nigra (European Black Elder) which is usually the one that over-the-counter tinctures are made from. You need two different varieties if you want fruit. Wide variety of foliage choices. They typically get 6-8 feet tall but can get taller if they’re very happy.
  • Sambucus canadensis (American Black Elder) found in the wild east of the Mississippi from Canada to Florida. Fruit is almost identical to the European Black Elder. Most are pretty much green leaves with white blooms. These can get 10 -15 feet tall. You also need two for fruit.
  • Sambucus caerulea (NW Native Blue Elder) is our favorite but is difficult to propagate so we are always in short supply. Very fast growing to 10 – 20 feet. Prune as hard as you want, it will grow back. Great for medicinal purposes too. Likes sun or shade.
  • Sambucus racemosa (NW Red Elder) is our other PNW native and first to flower. Gets about 10-15 feet with white conical flower clusters turning to brilliant red fruit in June. These are the least palatable for humans (they need to be cooked before eating) but birds LOVE them.