Bee-friendly plants series: Elderberry

Elderberry comes in two distinct types: black elder, sambucus canadensis (sambuca in the health food store cleanses) and red elder or stinking elder. They bloom and ripen at different times. The stinking elder is a pesky weed-of-the-woods that pops up unwanted when you’re trying to clear land. Its crushed leaves and cut stems give off a rank smell, hence its name. It blooms in April and May and fruits with red berries in June and July. It is food for native bees and wildlife. Black elder blooms in July after most native bushes have flowered. The white flat flower heads, up to ten inches in diameter, contain hundreds of tiny flowers. These flower heads show up against the prevailing green of summer foliage as you are driving by. We used to note the bush locations in our wine making days so we could find them again in September when the fruit was ripe. The black elder has its brief flamboyance and then the flowers drop and it fades into the woodsy wallpaper and if you don’t note where it is you’ll never find it again to pick the fruit, which is great for wine and and apple-elderberry pie. My wife tells me that elder flower cordial made from the fragrant blossoms is now popular because it figured into Megan Markel’s wedding. Get picking …though I’m afraid the bloom may be down by the time this post appears. Honeybees like black elder for the pollen. Around here it is a minor honey plant but a good people plant. Miscellaneous factoids: (1) the hollow stems of both species are good for whistles and pea shooters, (2) pick the clusters of berries and freeze them in a plastic bag. Once they are frozen you can bash them around to detach the berries from the stems for food use.

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