The Q&A Archives: New Sambucus Nigra Black Beauty

Question: Dear Sir/Madam, Firstly let me start by saying that this is the second time I've written to you and was extremely pleased with your response to my initial question. What I wish to know now is whether or not you can tell me anything about the new Sambucus that is due to hit the North American market this summer. What I would really like to know is how quickly the plant matures and I'll preface the question with an experience that I've previously had with a different cultivar. I love to grow plants from seed, which I purchase from a number of sources, and on one occassion three springs ago, I was germinating some campanula that I'd ordered form Thompson and Morgan when an incidental seedling emerged that in no way resembled the campanula. I was using ProMix seed starter, specifically formulated for this purpose, with a bit of sterile soil mixed in. I presumed that somewhere, most likely at the seed company, this seed got thrown into the mix. Anyway, I planted the seedling and the first summer it grew to a few inches and put out a few leaves. The next summer the plant sprouted about six long arching branches and grew about three to four feet high. The following summer the plant grew to seven feet in both height and width and flowered it's head off for pretty much all of June and July. I finally learned that this was an elderberry but, in comparison to the Sambucus canadensis which is indigenous to our parts, this plant seemed to have larger flower heads. The heads were basically flat though some were slightly domed. I did notice somewhere that there is a variety called magnus or something like that and it's supposed to have bigger flower heads but,as I recall, the description of the foliage wasn't consistent with my plant. Anyway, I'll assume that I have the canadensis. Regardless, I intend to add the Black Beauty this summer, it's already ordered. I anticipate that this

Answer: The sambucus as a group are known to be fast growing, three or more feet per year, especially in the moist soil they prefer. According to Michael Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, the Sambucus nigra or European Elder is a large multistemmed shrub growing to 10 or 20 or even 30 feet high and he classes it as deserving of the same "weed status as S. canadensis" so I would expect a similar performance from your new plant. In my own experience, however, I have found that variegated and red- or dark-foliaged varieties are often a bit less vigorous than their more typical green-leafed kin. I did find one reference indicating this particular variety will grow to only 10 feet within 8 years. Having said that, and knowing there can be some variation in growth depending on climate and cultural conditions, I am sure you will enjoy your new plant!

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