Sambucus nigra (elder)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Wood Products
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Sambucus nigra L.
Preferred Common Name
International Common Names
- English: black elder; common elder; elderberry; European elder
- Spanish: sambugo; sauco común
- French: seu; sureau; sureau noir
- Russian: buzina chernaya
- Portuguese: sabugueiro; sabugueiro-negro
Local Common Names
- Czech Republic: bez cherny
- Germany: Schwarzer Holunder
- Italy: sambuco nero
- Netherlands: gewone Vlier
- Norway: fläder
- Poland: dziki bez czarny
- Romania: soc negru; socul
- Sweden: flaeder
- SAMNI (Sambucus nigra)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
S. nigra is a component of woody scrub vegetation that may appear on previously disturbed ground that has remained uncultivated for some years. It does not withstand regular cultivation and chemical control appears effective. It is generally invasive in hedgerows, roadsides and field margins, and unmanaged grasslands. Since it is frequently found as an understorey shrub in its native range, it is a potential woodland invasive in non-native areas. However, it is also a valuable fruit-producing tree and is likely to be further introduced as a commercial species.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Dipsacales
- Family: Caprifoliaceae
- Genus: Sambucus
- Species: Sambucus nigra
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Sambucus is a large genus with a variety of changing synonymy recorded and some apparent continuing taxonomic confusion. USDA-NRCS (2002) uses the all-embracing species concept of S. nigra including three subspecies, subsp. nigra native to Europe, and the North American natives subsp. canadensis (L.) R. Bolli and subsp. cerulea (Raf.) R. bolli, which are, however, raised to species rank in most taxonomies. S. nigra L. is used here in its strict sense as the European native species (=S. nigra subsp. nigra L.).
A range of cultivars of S. nigra have been described, including: Aurea, Guincho Purple and Laciniata (Boskovic and Tobutt, 1992), Sambu, Sampo, Samidan, Samdal and Samyl (Kaack, 1989; 1997), and Haschberg, Donau, Pragarten and Tulbing (Strauss and Novak, 1982). Some of these have been raised to forms, f. alba, f. aurea, f. lacinata and f. pendula (USDA-ARS, 2003), and some have been raised to varieties, var. aurea (Kulikov and Uleiskaya, 1993), var. lacinata (USDA-NRCS, 2002) and var. rotundifolia. Clearly, there remains some confusion as to the relative rank and classification of the intraspecific morphological variation found within the species. A natural hybrid between S. nigra and S. racemosa, found together with its parents in southern Sweden, was intermediate between the parents in inflorescence shape, flower size, and colour of flowers, pith and fruit (Nilsson, 1987).
DescriptionTop of page S. nigra is a bushy, fast-growing shrub or small tree reaching 8-10 m tall and 20-30 cm diameter (Hegi, 1966). It often has straight, vigorous, erect shoots from the base, branches often arching. Bark is brownish-grey, often deeply furrowed and corky. Twigs are stout, greyish with prominent lenticels, leaflets 3-9 cm long, often 5-7 cm, ovate-lanceolate or ovate-elliptical, acuminate, rarely orbicular or deeply dissected, sparingly hairy on veins beneath, serrate; leaves with 5-7 leaflets, sometimes as few as 3, stipules none or small and subulate. Inflorescence flat topped, 10-20 cm in diameter, with 5 primary rays, Corolla c. 5 mm in diameter, flowers creamish white, anthers cream, fruits black, globose, 6-8 mm, sometimes greenish-yellow, containing 3-5 seeds.
Plant TypeTop of page Broadleaved
DistributionTop of page It occurs in the whole of Europe (with the exception of the northernmost parts of the continent) and also in north-west Africa and south-west Asia. The approximate latitudinal limits of its native range are 34°N to 63°N.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|China||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Jiangsu||Present||Introduced||Planted||Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2003|
|-Shandong||Present||Introduced||Planted||Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2003|
|Georgia (Republic of)||Present||Native||Natural||USDA-ARS, 2003|
|Turkey||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Côte d'Ivoire||Present||Introduced||Planted||Benoit-Vical, 1996|
|USA||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Washington||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Planted||Missouri Botanical Garden, 2003|
|Bolivia||Present||Introduced||Planted||Missouri Botanical Garden, 2003|
|Colombia||Present||Introduced||Planted||Ortiz de Boada & Cogua, 1989|
|Ecuador||Present||Introduced||Planted||Missouri Botanical Garden, 2003|
|Albania||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|Austria||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Belgium||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Bulgaria||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|Czech Republic||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Denmark||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Estonia||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Finland||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|France||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Germany||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Greece||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|Hungary||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Ireland||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Italy||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Latvia||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Lithuania||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Moldova||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|Netherlands||Present||Native||Natural||Jans and Drost, 1995|
|Poland||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Portugal||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|-Azores||Present||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Romania||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|-Central Russia||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|-Northern Russia||Present||Native||Natural||USDA-ARS, 2003|
|-Southern Russia||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|Slovakia||Present||Native||Natural||Gaborcik et al., 1999|
|Slovenia||Present||Native||Natural||Crepinsek et al., 2002|
|Spain||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Switzerland||Present||Native||Natural||Tinner et al., 1999|
|UK||Widespread||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Ukraine||Present||Native||Natural||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003|
|Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)||Present||Native||Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2003; USDA-ARS, 2003|
|Australia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-New South Wales||Present||Introduced||Planted||Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2003|
|-Victoria||Present||Introduced||Planted||Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2003|
|New Zealand||Present||Introduced||1867||Owen, 1996; Williams, 1983; Williams and Karl, 1996|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page It has been introduced to various parts of North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australasia, though few exact records for first introduction exist. It was introduced into New Zealand in 1867 (Owen, 1996).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page Further introductions are likely as seed is widely available and there are a variety of cultivars available.
HabitatTop of page Under natural conditions the species is a component of brushwood of various types of forest communities on fertile and relatively humid soils containing carbonates. S. nigra very easily colonizes both natural and man-made forests and many locations of the species have an anthropogenic origin. It has a somewhat invasive character, especially in disturbed sites such as abandoned fields or grasslands (Kollmann, 1995; Decaens et al., 1997) and even communal rubbish or rubble heaps. It also colonizes forests and poplar plantations established on abandoned agricultural land, often forming a dense understorey (Duvigneaud et al., 1981). S. nigra is also a shrub of open areas and woodland edges and is associated with eutrophic and disturbed soils and thick S. nigra scrub can develop in open areas of woodland (Mayer and Reimoser, 1978). S. nigra is one of the commonest riparian shrubs within the catchment of the Great Ouse and other managed watercourses in eastern England (Mason and Macdonald, 1990; Harper et al., 1997). S. nigra is also described from a grassy scrub landscape formed in recently grazed areas at the edges of a marsh (Jans and Drost, 1995) and is associated with post-1837 hedges in a study of hedgerow field boundaries in the parish of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland (Condon and Jarvis, 1989).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page It is known to invade abandoned fields and grasslands (Kollmann, 1995; Decaens et al., 1997) and poplar plantations established on abandoned agricultural land (Duvigneaud et al., 1981).
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The chromosome number of S. nigra is 2n=28, with 2n=36 also reported.
Physiology and Phenology
Flowering is generally in June and July in Europe. Seed dormancy is orthodox.
Wertheim (1981) describes propagation in cultivation of S. nigra from cuttings taken in the winter, preferably from strong unbranched 1-year shoots and Strauss (1978) indicates propagation of cultivars can be from hardwood cuttings in October, from softwood cuttings under glass in the summer, or from suckers.
S. nigra is strictly stenohydric (Linnenbrink et al., 1993), mesophytic, nitrophilous, frost tolerant and somewhat drought tolerant species, tolerating annual rainfall below 500 mm (Eichstadt and Mahn, 1993). It does have very specific site requirements and is tolerant to soils of low fertility and exposed areas. The species grows mostly on lowlands and on lower levels of mountains. It has an altitudinal limit of 1550 m in the Alps in Europe, 2200 m in Africa in the Atlas and 2300 m in the Pontus Mountains in Asia. It has the ability to regenerate rapidly if cut and is generally noted as shade tolerant, though Kollmann and Reiner (1996) describe S. nigra as not establishing easily in strongly shaded environments. S. nigra is tolerant to pollutants in the soil; it is able to survive on heavily contaminated land within 1-2 km of the copper smelter 'Legnica' in western Poland (Rebele et al., 1993).
S. nigra is described from a variety of woodland habitats in Europe. Helliwell et al. (1996) list S. nigra as one element of dense shrub understorey in disturbed ash/oak woodland and Sgardelis and Usher (1994) also indicate S. nigra as forming a dense understorey in a mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland in the UK. S. nigra is also described as a minor forest tree or shrub species, present in mountain and/or marginal areas of Italy (Bounous and Peano, 1990). Hetsch and Schmitt (1993) identify a distinct Humulus lupus / S. nigra community from forest margins in northern Germany. Characteristic shrub associations dominated by S. nigra are successional to ruderal forest characterized by Acer spp., bottomland species and on dry sites, Robinia pseudoacacia (Fischer, 1975). In studies in a deciduous forest in southern Poland over 5 years, the browse of Euonymus europaea, S. nigra and Crataegus oxyacantha were most preferred by deer (Bobek et al., 1979). In a study of food requirements, S. nigra is also listed by Negrutiu and Boghez (1972) as one of the most important species for roe deer.
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-39|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||4||20|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||15||31|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||-17||7|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||0||0||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||400||1800||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Bimodal
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page Placochela nigripes induces galling of flower buds in S. nigra (Robbins, 1999). In Germany, a disease of S. nigra and S. racemosa was observed with foliar symptoms such as reddening, yellowing, reduced leaf size and premature leaf drop as well as dieback and decline. Mycoplasma-like organisms were detected in about 40% of affected plants (Lederer and Seemuller, 1991). Banerjee (1956) presents the biology of Auricularia auricula-judae (Linn.) Schoet. causing rot in S. nigra and describes the progress of decay in infected trees in Scotland, UK. Potential enemies to cultivated S. nigra in the Netherlands include the arthropod pest Synanthedon culiciformis. With respect to elderberry production, Muller (1977) describes difficulties in controlling Aphis sambuci using sprays.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page Birds feeding on the fruit are likely to be the main dispersal agents of seed, though other small mammals may also have a role. For example, increased gull colonization in offshore islands is thought to encourage the rapid dominance of S. nigra. Seed are likely to be dispersed along watercourses but their viability following immersion in water is not known. Intentional introduction is likely due to the commercial value of S. nigra and the availability as seed from mail order companies and various websites.
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Fruits (inc. pods)||seeds|
|Growing medium accompanying plants||seeds|
|Seedlings/Micropropagated plants||flowers; fruits; seeds; stems; whole plants|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches||stems|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||seeds|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page There are no studies as to the economic effects of invasion by S. nigra. There are, however, positive impacts from commercial sale of the flowers, fruits and their processed products.
Environmental ImpactTop of page The effects of S. nigra invasion have not been quantified, but where they form dense stands along watercourse, they may be expected to have effects on local hydrology.
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page The copious fruit production is a valuable source of food for birds and other wildlife, and as such, the presence of S. nigra will probably have only positive effects on fauna biodiversity, whereas effects on other plant species are unknown.
Social ImpactTop of page S. nigra is often well utilized by local people as valuable fruit and flower crop. In such contexts it has a positive social impact.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Invasive in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Has high reproductive potential
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page S. nigra has a wide range of uses. It is frequently cultivated across parts of Europe for elderberry production (Steffek, 2002). Fruits of the species are used for making confitures, jellies, juice and also for the extraction of dyestuffs (Bounous and Peano, 1990) and many cultivars of the species have been selected for these purposes (Smatana et al., 1988; Christensen, 1996; Kaack, 1997). The flowers of S. nigra are also used in the preparation of drinks and medicines (Pleva, 1982). Bridle and Timberlake (1997) and Bronnum-Hansen and Hansen (1983) identify S. nigra as a source of anthocyanin food colourant. The species has been planted as a garden tree for centuries, and as an ornamental, decorative plant for amenity purposes. It has also been planted for erosion control.
The wood of Sambucus nigra is heavy and quite durable, but poorly used due to the rather small dimensions of the timber. It has, however, been used as a source of sawn or hewn building timbers and for the production of exterior fittings: fences, woodware and for industrial and domestic woodware. Due to its whiteness, close grain and good cutting and polishing properties, the wood is very suitable for making pegs and other small wooden items including use by watchmakers and others concerned with delicate instruments (Metcalfe, 1948). It is sometimes used for fence poles in traditional rural economies. The pith from 1-year-old branches is used in microscopy for making sections of plants.
Dried fruits, flowers and cortex from this tree have been used as diaphoretic and diuretic medicines (Villar Perez et al., 1987). The medicinal properties of S. nigra and its toxicity have been known since antiquity, and have also been used as a source of natural pesticides. The medicinal properties of S. nigra are widely referred to in the literature. Products of S. nigra (sambucol) are natural remedies with antiviral properties, especially against different strains of influenza virus (Barak et al., 2001). Nemeth and Bernath (2001) list S. nigra among the main medicinal species collected from natural populations in Hungary. S. nigra is used in Turkish folk remedies for the treatment of various diseases which are thought to be inflammatory in nature (Yesilada et al., 1997). S. nigra is one of a list of plants identified by Benoit-Vical et al. (1996) that are frequently used to treat malaria. Based on a survey in the Lattari Mountains in Italy, S. nigra was identified as one of several species in which medicinal properties are of significance (Feo and Senatore, 1993). S. nigra is used in the treatment of oedematous swellings, dry coryza of infants, and respiratory problems (Parmar et al., 1993). Efremov et al. (1994) recommended commercial exploitation of S. nigra as a medicinal plant.
S. nigra is classified as a useful reservoir of aphid parasites with respect to management programmes (Stary and Neemec, 1986). Smith and Secoy (1981) also identify S. nigra as being used for agricultural pest control in western Europe before 1850. In a study of Central European forests on the ecological protection of forest against insect pests, S. nigra was found to be advantageous only against Epiblema nigricana (Turcek, 1963).
Uses ListTop of page
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
- Poisonous to mammals
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Wood ProductsTop of page
Sawn or hewn building timbers
- Exterior fittings
- Industrial and domestic woodware
- Tool handles
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page The North American native S. canadensis is closely related to S. nigra but may be separated by the teeth of the leaves being smaller and sharper than in S. nigra and the leaf points attenuated. The hummocky inflorescence in the later and protracted flowering period is also very characteristic (Wiggington and Graham, 1981).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Clive (1964) indicates that the mechanical crushing of dense scrub, in which S. nigra was an element, is a viable option for scrub control. In winter cereal crops it was found that S. nigra were favoured by reduced cultivation and by direct drilling (Pollard and Cussans, 1981), suggesting that increasing cultivation was required to reduce the incidence of this weed.
Growth suppression was pronounced in young S. nigra plants treated with CCC (Jasa, 1972), controlled by ammonium sulphamate (Bergmann, 1968) and considerable die-back to complete root kill with increasing doses of picloram. Low-volume applications of a new herbicide, 1:1 -ethylene-2:2 -dipyrilium dibromide gave good top-kill of various brush species, including S. nigra, though there was basal regeneration (Brian et al., 1958). S. nigra can be controlled by cutting down or burning.
There are no records of biological control being employed on S. nigra.
Regular cutting proved satisfactory for reducing dominant tall vegetation if combined with selective herbicides for problem weeds such as S. nigra (Worrall and Palmer, 1988).
ReferencesTop of page
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