Attract songbirds with American Black Elderberry – a bushy plant with clusters of berries native to the Eastern United States.
As a child, my mom would take us “elderberry picking” along the railroad tracks in Parkton, Md. She wanted the deep purple berries to make elderberry wine, elderberry jelly and elderberry pies.
From the honeysuckle family, American Black Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis), attracts more than 50 different song birds that also like the drooping clusters of fruit in the fall. It’s the perfect native plant for bird watchers.
Also called sweet elder, American elder, American Black Elderberry grows in USDA Zones 3 to 11 and is a deciduous shrub.
Here are some tips for birdwatchers who want to grow American Black Elderberry shrubs in their yards to attract songbirds:
No 1: Tip for attracting songbirds with American Black Elderberry: Purchase our American Black Elderberry shrub from a native plant nursery in your area. I bought mine from Florida Native Plants, 730 Myakka Road, Sarasota.
No. 2: Tip for attracting songbirds with American Black Elderberry: Do not ingest any part of the Black Elderberry bush other than the berries. The berries are edible but the rest of plant is poisonous.
No. 3: Tip for attracting songbirds with American Black Elderberry: Expect the plant to grow extremely quickly to 10 to 20 feet tall. American Black Elderberry or common elderberry has a fast growth rate. Mine grew to full size in just two years in my Florida native plant gardens.
No. 4: Tip for attracting songbirds with American Black Elderberry: Water more the first year as it is becoming established. The shrub is surprisingly drought tolerant which makes it perfect for xeriscaping. Most native plants are drought tolerant. Elderberry does prefer rain, but it will live without it. Plant in the sun or part-shade.
No. 5: Tip for attracting songbirds with American Black Elderberry: You must plant at least two different cultivars for cross pollination if you are interested in having clusters of berries. But I did perfectly fine with just one American Black Elderberry shrub in my yard because it grows like a weed in the area. As long as you live near conservation areas, fields or open land, you probably only need to plant one.
Some people won’t plant American Black Elderberry in their yard because they think it can look gangly. As I said, it does grow as a weed in the “wild” or along the side of the road. However, I absolutely love my elderberry bush. I have it planted behind a Pink Trumpet Tree.
At this moment, there is a bird’s nest in my American Black Elderberry shrub and I can watch a lot of song bird activity.
It’s true if left of its own accord, an Elderberry bush would form a dense thicket by sending up new suckers, but most gardeners tend to their yards on a regular basis. Also, I placed a tomato cage around my elderberry bush when I first planted it to keep it in bounds. It has never escaped from the large tomato cage.
Some of the birds that depend on the elderberry across the country include the common house finch, western bluebird, indigo bunting, red-shafted flicker, ash-throated flycatcher, Nuttall’s woodpecker, black-headed grosbeak, scrub jay, Stellar jay, Audubon warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, red-breasted nuthatch, brown towhee, Bullock’s oriole, hooded oriole, song sparrow, pigeons, white-crowned sparrow, western tanager, California thrasher, mockingbird, russet-backed thrush, cedar waxwing, grouse and pheasant.
Butterflies are attracted to the white flowers year round which can also be cut for floral arrangements.
For me, the best part of growing my own elderberry bush in my back yard, is the fact I don’t have to go “elderberry picking” in the wild where alligators and snakes might be hiding! And, I make a mean elderberry pie.