Golden Elderberry-Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’

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It, Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’ is more functional than ornamental here, used to provide shade for seating in a prime garden viewing spot. Added: The original receipt was finally located for the purchase of this shrub, from Heronswood, shipped June 14, 2004.

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It is not really a tree, but rather more of a large shrub, with judicious pruning required to keep the pathway clear underneath. But that’s okay. I like to prune.

The foliage was claimed to be golden, but it is more greenish to my eyes. But that’s okay, as well.

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There are fluffy white flowers in mid-spring. The petals drop like flower shaped sequins onto the seating beneath as the breezes blow. It is not only okay, I love it. Sometimes when I go inside, there are tiny flowers in my hair.

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Later the green multitudes of berries will turn very dark, like a rich red wine. Some people make wine from them, but here the birds devour every last bit of luciousness quickly. And that, too, is okay.

Some plant facts about golden elderberry, Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’:

Common Name: American elder
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Adoxaceae
Zone: 3 to 9, some sources said 4 to 11
Height: 5 to 12 feet, about 15 feet here in southeast Tennessee USDA Zone 7a
Spread: 3 to 10 feet
Bloom Time: June to July, May here, sometimes even late April
Bloom Color: White
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet, we don’t have wet and it is often quite dry in summer
Maintenance: Needs pruning
Flowers: Showy Flowers, Fragrant Flowers
Leaves: Colorful
Fruit: Showy Fruit, Edible Fruit
Wildlife: Attracts Birds, Attracts Butterflies
Tolerates: Clay Soil, Wet Soil
Uses: Erosion Control, Hedge, Rain Garden, umbrella to shade seating from the sun

Grow in average, medium to wet, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Best golden foliage color in full sun. Tolerates wide range of soils, but prefers moist, humusy soils. Spreads by root suckers to form colonies. (That must be in wet soil, there has been minimal colonization here.) Prune out dead or weakened stems in early spring.

A fast-growing deciduous shrub, Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’ is often seen as a broad, spreading, multistemmed plant, with pinnately compound, 12 to 14-inch-long yellow leaves arranged along the arching branches. But it can be effectively pruned into a nice, small, single or multi-stemmed tree with regular pruning to remove suckers growing from the base of the plant. When in bloom, golden elderberry is literally smothered with 6 to 10-inch-wide clusters of yellowish-white blooms. These are followed by a multitude of small, dark red berries which are quite popular with birds, and can be used in pies, jellies, or fermented to make a wine. Here, we let the birds have the berries, and greatly enjoy watching the birds feasting on them.

This post is part of my dear friend Gail of Clay and Limestone’s Wildflower Wednesday. Be sure to pop over there to see what other wildflowers are showing on the fourth Wednesday of each month.


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20 Responses to Golden Elderberry-Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’

  1. A friend of ours makes elderberry jelly every year and gives us some. Yummy. I can see why the birds eat them. I didn’t know they had such sweet looking flowers that dropped.

    Hi Lisa, what a good friend to share the elderberry jelly with you. The flowers are very pretty and sweet, and the berries, while they last, are beautiful during the hottest part of summer. An all around great shrub!

  2. gail says:

    Wowzer, I love this beauty! Here’s a case of me thinking I needed full sun and wet soil to grow it and I might not. This is one of the many reasons I love blogging and Wildflower Wednesday. I continue to learn from my gardening friends! Happy WW to you my dear friend. xoxogail

    Hi Gail, thanks so much. Learning is life long, isn’t it? Especially about gardening! We can never know but a sliver of what there is out there. Blogging certainly helps.

  3. Christy says:

    Hi Frances…what a great shrub. It’s nice that it’s so pretty and provides shade for your sitting area., plus feeds the birds!

    Hi Christy, thanks. As with so many things planted here, I had no idea this shrub would get so large as to be a seating umbrella. The birds adore it, even when the berries are gone. It is dense and provides great habitat, even with my near constant pruning.

  4. I have a great Elderberry-Apple Pie recipe if you ever want to use some of them for yourself.

    Thanks for the offer, Kathy. Now if you were offering a pie, I would take you right up on that!

  5. Dee says:

    I really love that tree/shrub. I have a golden elderberry, but I’ve never noticed if it makes fruit. My black one is crazy with blooms this year. So pretty. I didn’t think you ever sat down Faire. I thought you simply worked all day long. Ha!~~Dee

    HA Dee, you are funny, and right, of course. I don’t sit for long, it is true, even when trying to take photos of butterflies and hummingbirds. There are several seating areas around and about the garden that I take advantage of, depending on when it is shady there. This spot under this fine shrub/tree is my favorite though. I also have the Black Lace Sambucus but it has not been nearly as vigorous as this one.

  6. Alison says:

    Great post! I have the one called Black Beauty, which doesn’t make anywhere near as many berries as yours. I limbed mine up this winter, and I’m really hoping it has a somewhat more tree-like shape in the future, like yours. I love that last shot from inside the shrub, with berries hanging down and the sun coming through the leaves. I bet it is a wonderful vantage point to get shelter, and to view the garden.

    Hi Alison, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience with elderberry. I have Black Lace, and it is nowhere near as healthy as this golden one. Pretty, yes, but so much smaller in my garden, even after several years.

  7. elaine says:

    What a beautiful shrub – I could look at your garden all day there is so much to see.

    Hi Elaine, thanks for those kind words. I do spend every minute out in the garden as weather permits, working or sitting. It is always changing, never gets boring.

  8. My Grandmother grew this plant. She used the roots of this plant to make a poltice for poison ivy. We lived on a farm in very rural southeastern N.C. I love your blog!

    Hi Syble, thanks for the kind words, I do appreciate you! Thanks too for the poison ivy info. We are having a horrible year for poison ivy with the extra rain and I may be in need of a poltice. I will google it!

  9. I have three different elderberries. A straight species A. canadensis in a corner, mostly for the birds. Second, some native red elderberry (S. racemosa) and S. Sutherland’s Gold, which I found out too late is actually a European elder.

    Hi Jason, thanks for adding to the conversation about the elderberries. Sutherland’s Gold is the first one I bought, it died almost immediately. I was bummed because it was gorgeous. Black Lace died also, but a replacement still lives on, but struggles here. It might be that those Europeans are not happy in my acidic clay soil that is not that moist.

  10. doo says:

    I just love your photos and all the information. You are a few weeks ahead of us here in Zone 6B Canada because we’ve had some strange weather. I look forward to elder flowers for cordial and foxgloves for the fairies who are patiently waiting for the crazy rain to stop. I think I saw a fairy riding a hummingbird holding a leaf overhead.

    Hi Doo, thanks for visiting. Fairies, hummingbirds and cordials,…sounds like my kind of garden!

  11. Hi Frances! I so enjoyed your post. I just planted two Sutherland’s Gold today. I wonder how they’ll fare, as we have heavy clay soil . . . and oak trees. I’d be very happy if they resemble yours someday!! 🙂

    Hi Shady, thanks for adding in here. Sutherland’s Gold is a beauty, that will make a very fine addition to your garden.

  12. Lea says:

    Pretty shrub, and what a pretty place it has in your garden!
    Lea’s Menagerie

    Hi Lea, thanks. I got lucky on the placement of the Sambucus, the garden it faces was not even created yet when it was first planted.

  13. Hannah says:

    You must be quite adept as a pruner, dealing with such weak wood, the tree is lovely. My S. caerulea got immense then totally fell apart after a heavy snowfall. The other smaller Elderberries have remained more like small bushes. I do pick some fruit from ‘York’. Great post!

    Hi Hannah, thanks so much. I do love the prune and if practice makes perfect, well, I am far from that. This shrub gets a thinning each year in addition to the limbing up, plus we do not get heavy snowfall here. I hope your shrub regrows!

  14. Frances I planted an elderberry that I hope will grow glorious to supply some berries for me and some for the birds…your garden is so lovely

    Hi Donna, thanks for stopping by. May your elderberry give you and the birds loads of pleasure!

  15. Erin says:

    So lovely! Wish I could see your garden on a slope in person 🙂 thanks for the great info on the golden elderberry. Now I want elderberry blossoms in my hair, too!

    Hi Erin, thanks for visiting virtually. Flowers in our hair, it’s a good thing!

  16. Rose says:

    Beautiful images! I’m sure the birds are so grateful that you let them share in the bounty of berries. “Berry blossoms in my hair…” I think there’s a song in there, just waiting to be written.

    Hi Rose, thanks for stopping by. The birds are most welcome to all of the berries around our garden, but I am trying to get a few blueberries for humans this year, a first! HA As for the song, if you’re going to San Francisco….wish I was, but sadly I am not!

  17. vwgarden says:

    Ah, I just planted a couple of ‘Sutherland Gold’ elderberries in my yard! Their leaves are very yellow right now – seems like I read that they are more yellow with more sun. Can’t wait for them to grow – I wonder if they’ll fruit as nicely as yours. Pretty things.

    Hi VW, thanks for sharing here. I love Sutherland’s Gold, the leaves are so much more feathery than the US native one. I hope yours give you pleasure for many years to come.

  18. Natalie Witt says:

    The most perfect place to relax! 🙂

    It really is, and I try to sit under there every day for a few minutes.

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  20. Lisa says:

    Where can you buy Elderberry plants in Eastern NC ?

    I cannot answer that, Lisa. Perhaps a google search will yield results, or ask someone who gardens in eastern NC. I garden in southeast Tennessee, but my elderberry was mail ordered.

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