Elderberry is an invasive shrub that has escaped from initial plantings.
Canada to Texas to parts of Mexico is its native range, although it’s a bit obscure due to extensive cultivation. The first record of weediness occurred in 1938 in Oahu. It has naturalized and, in some cases, encroached into the native Mesic forests where it makes dense thickets. Elderberry can be a garden nightmare. The long-lived seed bank and extensive runner production make it difficult to control once established.
Elderberry has a long history of medicinal uses. But that’s only if the berries are harvested before the birds get them, almost impossible in Hawaii. Numerous native plants can be used instead. Books such as Plants in Hawaiian Medicine by Beatrice H. Krauss or Hawaiian Herbal Medicine: Kahuna La’au Lapa’au by June Gutmanis share the knowledge the ancient Hawaiians learned over a long period of time. It’s pono to respect the place you live and learn from the culture of those that came before.
*Cases of poisoning from elderberries are rare but have been recorded for cattle, hogs, and humans.
Description and Dispersal:
- A semi-evergreen small tree.
- Light green, leathery leaves are pinnately compound.
- Wide, flat cymes or white or yellow blossoms.
- Following flowers are blue/black fruits.
High Risk Traits:
- Broad climate suitability
- Able to grow in regions with temperate to tropical climates
- Naturalized on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii (Hawaiian Islands) and elsewhere
- Regarded as a garden and landscaping weed, and potential environmental weed
- Other Sambucus species are invasive
- Toxic to animals and people
- Tolerates many soil types
- Forms dense thickets
- Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by root sprouts
- Reaches maturity in 2-4 years
- Seeds dispersed by birds and intentionally by people
- Seeds may form a persistent seed bank
- Able to coppice and resprout after cutting and fire
Low Risk Traits:
- Unarmed (no spines, thorns, or burrs)
- Palatable despite reports of toxicity
- Herbicides may provide effective control