jam on it


Mexican elderberry
Sambucus cerulea

  • 10-25' X 15'

  • white FLOWERS in fall and spring, followed by fruit  

  • mostly evergreen medium-sized TREE

  • regular to moderate WATER (low to terrace zone)

  • FULL to part SUN



  • fruit attracts birds

  • larval food plant for moths

This isn't a plant a lot of people know about, but it is a plant they SHOULD know about if they love to eat and drink. There are several species of Sambucus, but the species we are most interested in is the Mexican elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) often sold under its old name Sambucus mexicana. 

Mexican elderberry is the source of fruit for elderberry wine or jam (made from the fruits). The flowers also are made into elixirs and teas. As a wildlife plant, you could hardly do better--the flowers attract nectar-loving insects like native bees and butterflies, the fruits attract all sorts of wildlife, especially birds in the urban areas, and the foliage is larval food for Owlet moths (Noctuids).

Trees get to about 20-25 feet tall though often found as smaller 10' shrubs--all depending on growing conditions and water availability. These trees are mostly evergreen, though the hot summers may make them yellow and drop some or all of their leaves. These trees take regular to moderate water, full to part sun, and preferably a protected location from high winds (branches are somewhat brittle). The foliage has somewhat of a foul smell, and the plant is mostly poisonous (except for the flowers and fruits--both which are best enjoyed cooked and/or fermented). 

Mexican elderberry will flower and fruit at least twice a year (see photo below with flowers and fruit on same branch). This makes it valuable to wildlife that depend on nectar/fruit for sustenence. 

P1120475 Sambucus cerulea fr Dryden.JPG
Katherine Gierlach