Sambucus nigra (American Black Elderberry)

Scientific name

Sambucus nigraL.


Sambucus nigra var. canadensis (L.) B.L.Turner; Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis (L.) Bolli

Common names

American black elderberry, elderberry, common elderberry, American black elderberry, American elder, American elderberry.




North America

Naturalised distribution (global)

The editors could not find information on the naturalised distribution of Sambucus nigra outside eastern Africa.

Introduced, naturalised or invasive in East Africa

Sambucus nigra is present in Tanzania and is naturalised in parts of Kenya and Uganda (A.B.R. Witt pers. obs.). There are no herbarium records of the S. nigra in East Africa, though this does not necessarily mean that it is absent from this country.


Grows in disturbed areas of rain forest, along roads, disturbed sites, degraded land, fence rows and on the sites of former settlements.


A herbaceous or woody shrub about 1-6 m tall.

The fruits are black purple in colour when ripe, with a persistent calyx at the apex.

Stems are multiple, branching from the base, with a large whitish pith.

Leaves are opposite, pinnately compound, with petioles to 6 cm. On lateral leaves, the leaflets are about 50 x 13 mm, stalks on the lateral leaflets absent or up to 3 mm long.

Stalk on the terminal leaflet about 12 mm long. Leaflet blade margins toothed with about 10-12 teeth on each side. Leaf blade margins are hairy.

Flowers are terminal compound cymes, typically dome-shaped to flat to 30 cm wide. Flowers are white, unpleasantly perfumed, hairless. Petals shortly fused at the base, about 3-3.5 mm long.

Fruits blackish purple when ripe, hairless and globose in shape. Fruits depressed globular, about 4 mm diameter, calyx persistent at the apex.

Each fruit contains about 4-5 seeds, each about 3 mm long.

Reproduction and dispersal

Sambucus nigra mainly reproduces through stolons in tropical Africa.

Similar species

Unlike Sambucus nigra, the indigenous Sambucus africana the indigenous species tends to be a high altitude plant, 1750-3370 m altitude and is also found on the forest floor.

Economic and other uses

The fruits of Sambucus nigra can be used in wine and jelly or for making dye. They also have medicinal properties.

Environmental and other impacts

This species can rapidly colonise disturbed areas and displace native species.


The precise management measures adopted for any plant invasion will depend upon factors such as the terrain, the cost and availability of labour, the severity of the infestation and the presence of other invasive species.

The best form of invasive species management is prevention. If prevention is no longer possible, it is best to treat the weed infestations when they are small to prevent them from establishing (early detection and rapid response). Controlling the weed before it seeds will reduce future problems. Control is generally best applied to the least infested areas before dense infestations are tackled. Consistent follow-up work is required for sustainable management.

The editors could not find any specific information on the control of this species.


Not listed as a noxious weed by the state or governments in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.


Mairura, F.S., 2007. Sambucus nigra L. [Internet] Record from Protabase. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l'Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed 25 August 2011.

Wikipedia contributors. "Sambucus canadensis." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed January 2011.


Agnes Lusweti, National Museums of Kenya; Emily Wabuyele, National Museums of Kenya, Paul Ssegawa, Makerere University; John Mauremootoo, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL Secretariat - UK.


This fact sheet is adapted from The Environmental Weeds of Australia by Sheldon Navie and Steve Adkins, Centre for Biological Information Technology, University of Queensland. We recognise the support from the National Museums of Kenya, Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) - Tanzania and Makerere University, Uganda. This activity was undertaken as part of the BioNET-EAFRINET UVIMA Project (Taxonomy for Development in East Africa).


BioNET-EAFRINET Regional Coordinator: [email protected]