PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm

Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)

The blooms of Red Elderberry are an unmistakable signal that spring weather is finally here. They come on like clockwork in April every year as creamy white cone shaped puffs at the tips of branches covered with gracefully arranged leaves.

You can see beautiful examples of Red Elderberry, as well as many other worthy snapshots of river valley ecology, by traveling along Pioneer Way between Tacoma and Puyallup. As the road meanders, tucked against the ridge at the southern edge of the valley, it crosses Swan, Squally, and Clear Creeks and plays tag with Clarks Creek till you reach Puyallup.

Along the way there are excellent examples of wetland and riparian habitats. In March & April you get Osoberry, Red Flowering Currant, eagles, ducks, and herons. April & May you get Red Elder blooms, eagles, ducks, and herons. May-June is yellow flowered Twinberry & Blue Elderberry blooms, eagles, ducks, and herons. It’s like this all the way into winter when you’re treated to the brilliant stems of Red Twig Dogwood and various yellow and orange willows, eagles, ducks, and herons.

But right now it’s Red Elderberry season and the early bees and hummingbirds are ecstatic about it. In another month, blooms turn to brilliant scarlet berries that feed all the songbirds. There are two native NW Elderberries, Red and Blue. Grow the red one for its stately, elegant beauty and to make our local winged wildlife super happy. It’s not good for humans. Grow the blue one for your own powerful medicine and food. Both of these can grow 12-20 feet tall as multi-stemmed trees. You can prune them any time for shape and size but it is best done from mid autumn to late winter to preserve the blossoms and fruit.