Monday, July 4, 2011

Shrub ID: Sambucus canadensis (American elderberry)

This is a beautiful native shrub (from Canada, introduced in 1761) I saw on a walk through the woods the other day. It's name is Sambucus canadensis, or American elderberry. You can see the bees love the flower, and in the fall the dark purple fruit attract the birds. The fruit is high in Vitamin C and popular for pies, jelly, juices, and wines. The shrub grows 8'-12' high and wide according to most, but because of it's more unkempt growth habit you want it to have some space.
These awesome flower clusters are called cymes, which basically means they are a group of tiny, solitary flowers that form a flat-topped blossom, in this case slightly domed. The picture below is a bit blurry but you can see better the pinnately compound leaves that make up the body of the shrub. Each grouping of 7 leaflets you count is actually considered a single leaf. Botanists identify leaves by finding their buds. Each leaf has a bud at it's base, so if the leaf is destroyed the plant can make a new leaf from that same node on the stem. I don't have a close-up, but if I photographed the main, central stem in the photo below you would see that the leaf buds are there in the center, at the base of the leaf stalks (petioles) going left and right, and at the base of the leaflets there is nothing but the petiolule, or leaflet stalk, sans bud. Hence we can say that it is a compound leaf, comprised of 7 leaflets.
Again, not the greatest shots but a valuable woodland shrub for Zone 4-9.

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