British Columbia: is red elderberry polymorphic?

Discussion in 'Pacific Northwest Native Plants' started by Jake Sherlock, Jun 14, 2020.

  1. Jake Sherlock

    Jake Sherlock New Member

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    Hello, last year on a 4x4 outing I came across a native red elder with yellow berries. It was in amongst many others that had the red berries one expects. I searched nearby for more, alas none. I'm 58 and have lived on the west coast here all my life and am an avid outdoorsman and studier of nature.I have never seen this before and wonder if anyone else has noted this. Sorry no pics but I intend to revisit soon to see if it is still there and will photograph it if it is!
     
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  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    It comes in red, purple, nearly brown, orange, yellow and white*. I have only seen multiples together of the first three phases. With the more novel colors being solitary individuals, same as with the one yellow version you found.

    *I have never come across a white one myself
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2020
  3. Margot

    Margot Rising Contributor

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    My garden-writer friend, the late Anne Marrison, told me about orange Sambucus she found near her home in Whonnock, BC. She would probably not have been surprised to know that it could appear in other colours too.

    Segue here - I was sold a Black Sambucus several years ago by a native plant grower who assured me it was of BC origin even though it had variegated green/white leaves. I am still suspicious that it is Sambucus nigra from Europe . . . any thoughts?
     
  4. Acerholic

    Acerholic Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society

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    @Jake Sherlock, good morning, I wonder if you have seen Red elder with unripe green berries. Just a thought!!

    D
     
  5. Acerholic

    Acerholic Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society

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    Good morning Margot, this is a photo of my Sambucas Nigra if that's of any help in identifying yours.

    D
     

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  6. Margot

    Margot Rising Contributor

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    As far as I can determine, Sambucus nigra and Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea are the same plant and it does appear that that is the name of the blue/black-berried one that grows here. I've wanted one since I saw some growing in Port Alberni, not too far from where I live. I had thought S. nigra was the name of the European species and S. cerulea was the one that grows in BC.

    'Nigra' apparently refers to the colour of the bluish-black berries, not the leaves, which are typically green. Yours is beautiful but I think it may be a cultivar not typical of those growing wild. I know cultivars such as 'Black Lace' have been very popular the past few years with their dark leaves and pink flowers but people don't always give them the space they need.

    I think the one I have, with variegated leaves, is likely a cultivar too - not something I'd find growing wild. And I definitely have it planted in the wrong spot!
     
  7. Acerholic

    Acerholic Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society

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    Hi Margot, sorry I forgot to say, mine is Black Lace. I posted it in case the one you 'purchased' was similar.
    We do have a lot of Elder growing wild where I live. People are out collecting flowers along the river to make their elderflower cordial, or something a bit stronger, lol.

    D
     
  8. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Active Member

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    Interesting observation

    Now would certainly be the time - the day! - to go look for your yellow sighting 2019 before birds enjoy the berries.

    I am Coast too and have never seen yellow fruit that I recall

    Now, that said , in the Okanagan, ours are dark purple berries tho the shrub looks same as one at coast with red berries.
     
  9. Jake Sherlock

    Jake Sherlock New Member

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    Acerholic, definitely not green/unripe berries. George, the rain is putting a damper on things! no pun intended. I definitely want to go and see if this bush is still there. It's amongst dozens if not hundreds of others all red. I live on 5 acres and am a native plant nut.I have dozens of red elders here that I look after in their native state. This year they and all other early natives are way behind.The berries are still small and green.Wood pigeons and black headed grosbeaks are here waiting.Inside one week all berries will be gone...once they ripen..It's a great show if one is a bird nut which I am in the first degree! When the elders first flower I pick and eat them raw as I wander on the property. I only eat the small new ones as I find the larger ones get grainy and bitter.
     
  10. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Esteemed Contributor UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    A mutation in not developing a particular anthocyanin for colouration is pretty common in plants. It seems like there is at least a two pigment system with varying levels of production in red elderberry fruits.
     
  11. Margot

    Margot Rising Contributor

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    Many websites talk about uncooked elderberries being toxic . . . do you feel any ill-effects from the few you eat?

    I found this website about animals eating the berries with the unintentionally funny comment:
    Cyanide poisoned animals become very excited when unable to breathe.

    Guide to Poisonous Plants – College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences – Colorado State University
     
  12. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Sambucus nigra is native to Europe, n Africa and w Asia. The white margined cultivar of it is 'Marginata'. Whereas S. cerulea (S. nigra subsp. c., S. c. var. mexicana, S. m.) is the blue elderberry native from s BC to CA and NM.
     
  13. Margot

    Margot Rising Contributor

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    That must be the one I was sold as a BC native plant. Thanks for clarifying.
     
  14. Jake Sherlock

    Jake Sherlock New Member

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    Margot,I was referring to eating young blossoms not the berries....I haven't tried that.
     
  15. Jake Sherlock

    Jake Sherlock New Member

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    so I went and had a look for the yellow elder. It's too early yet . The berries are small and green still...some in the sunshine, what little of it there's been, are just starting to turn. I'll go back in a few days. Wood pigeons and thrushes are sitting around like they're waiting.
     
  16. Margot

    Margot Rising Contributor

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    Sambucus - Wikipedia

    Leaves, twigs, branches, seeds, roots, flowers, and berries of Sambucus plants produce cyanogenic glycosides, which have toxic properties. Ingesting a sufficient quantity of cyanogenic glycosides from berry juice, flower tea, or beverages made from fresh leaves, branches, and fruit has been shown to cause illness, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and weakness.

    So, thankfully, you have not eaten enough flowers to cause you problems!

     
  17. wcutler

    wcutler Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    Elderberry wine is definitely a thing, as is elderberry juice. The page at 10 Easy Steps to Make Homemade Elderberry Wine says
    The most common edible varieties are the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra). These both have rich, dark purple berries and can grow from 8-20 feet tall, respectively. Note, there is also an elderberry variety with red berries (Sambucus racemosa), but those berries are poisonous.​
    I'm not sure that page is the best source for information, but I think the Wikipedia page must be overstating the case.
     
  18. Margot

    Margot Rising Contributor

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    If you look up all the various species, there are warnings of toxicity across the entire genus. The big difference is whether the berries are cooked or not.

    It's fascinating to think that, way back when, at a time when people obviously knew eating the raw elderberries was problematic, they still persevered and tried cooking them to avoid the side effects. It seems to have worked.
     
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  19. Jake Sherlock

    Jake Sherlock New Member

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    Hello, I just came in from a second visit to see if the yellow elder is still "happening". This weather is slowing things up in the ripening of these berries. This spot is heavily shaded..all seems quite late this year. Elders in areas where the sun penetrates are turning including directly across the road from where I'm looking. Wood Pigeons are stripping the berries at a good pace including the small unripe green ones! Another visit in a couple of days.... Now as to toxicity, I certainly am no expert there, but having read some of the BC Govt issued bulletins regarding the indigenous peoples and their life histories it seems as though this prolific shrub and its' berries were coveted.Having said that a friend who was (passed on now) a licensed physician along with my father (passed on now) proceeded to make tinctures from the flowers in season as well as wine from the berries! Now to clarifiy....These men passed from old age!!! lol.
     
  20. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Yes. There was a time when a very conservative treatment of Sambucus lumped these two species into one (Bolli 1994, Dissertationes Botanicae vol. 223), but modern genetic evidence has shown them to be more distinct, so they are again accepted as separate species (Applequist 2015, Acta Hort. 1061: 25-33).
     

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