Elderberry

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nature Notes
by Bob Thomas

Among the most conspicuous flowers of the season are the umbels of the elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). One of the most abundant local plant species, elderberries prefer open, well lighted places, although they will grow within woodlands. They are a common weed along urban thoroughfares and in backyards.

Besides providing habitat for a variety of animals, elderberry is also important as their food source. Caterpillars and a host of other insects feed on their foliage, and all the local predatory insects may be found lurking in search of anything edible. If the insects are there, so are birds and lizards.

Elderberry berries, produced from early summer through fall, are extremely important for a host of local and migrating birds.

The leaves and stems are quite poisonous to humans. The flowers, however, may be dipped in batter and fried, and the berries are an excellent source for wine and jelly.

Elderberries have also provided entertainment for children over the years. The trunks have a soft pithy core that can be removed to yield a hollow wooden tube. If another twig is whittled to fit snugly in the tube and a chinaberry or cork is wedged in the other end, a popgun results!

Old timers in south Louisiana made use of elderberry stems by removing the pith from a two inch section, drilling a hole near the base and inserting a hollow reed. Voila! A natural smoking pipe.

Also published in Nature Profile, The Times Picayune, August 15, 1984.

                                    

Elderberry leaves and as yet unopened                                      Elderberry flowers and fruit (near
flowers.                                                                                   the bottom).
Photo by Bob Thomas.                                                          Photo by Bob Thomas.

Elderberry fruit.
Photo by Bob Thomas.