This weekend I did a quite a lot in the garden, and so did Woodrat - and another whole day lies ahead of us. But more of that in another post, I hope. One thing I did was dig up an elderberry volunteer and put it in a pot for a neighbor. It's the elderberry I'll write more about today.
It's an amazing thing: it's only since I've been paying attention that the elderberries have suddenly appeared around here. How does that work? You can't not notice a sprouting bush - they do grow quickly. And at this time of year their blossoms are stunning, all over the neighborhood and beyond! How did I miss this?
I think our local elderberries are blue elderberry, Sambucus mexicana. To be sure, I went off googling to check and got a fun random hit:
... [T]he authentic Pre-Contact aboriginal flutes were tuned to ancient musical scales and, without a mouthpiece or block, they are so difficult to play that even the best flute players today find them impossible to play.http://www.kumeyaay.info/indian_artifacts.html?http%3A//www.kumeyaay.info/museums/artifacts/elderberry_flutes.html
The true historical California Indian elderberry flute is tuned in the ancient scales and represents the Rosetta stone of aboriginal North American music.
Wow - that is very cool! As a very amateur flute player myself, I love the idea of a mysterious lost music, whose scale is locked away in an impossible-to-play ancient flute. (I don't, of course, love the nasty history that is implied by this.)
And - something else I had not noticed, in Jepson it says:
Etymology: (Greek, the name of a musical instrument made from wood of this genus)Hey, maybe I'll go play a samba on my sambucus!
I did also read about people being poisoned from eating elderberry parts. Eat ye not of the leaves or other parts, and only cooked ripe berries, is the advice I read.
But mostly I was reading to try and establish if we have blue or red elderberries here.
All of the elderberries I've observed around here have the same large pinnate leaves, serrated, pale green with a bluish cast, with one of the leaflets on the end. The leaves seem to be huge on the baby plants:
And as the bush gets larger the leaves get smaller.
So how do I tell if I have Sambucus mexicana - AKA Sambucus nigra caerulea, AKA blue elderberry - or Sambucus racemosa, red elderberry? Both are native to California and beyond.
Well, first the berries, which are colored as per the name. But this is the first year I've noticed elderberries and I don't know yet. They are all green.
Also red elderberry prefers the wet. Our volunteers are in dry chaparral.
Also red elderberry has dome shaped inflorescences, not the flat plate shaped ones. But ours are - confusing.
Many like the above do have a sort of dome shape. And some are flat.
(Also the above shows how messy the shrubby ones can get.)
However, on checking Jepson, it seems the red elderberry has a dominant axis, like a pole with the other bits off like a christmas tree, and these did not. They are like flat plates that just sort of curl over. So I'm still leaning to the more likely choice, blue elderberry.
Las Pilitas has a simple rule of thumb: "REMEMBER IF IT IS LOW ELEVATION IT IS S.MEXICANA" - We are at 900 feet or so, pretty low. But I don't know if it's a hard and fast rule. Jepson does not give a "not below" listing, just a "not above" listing: 3000m for blue, 3500m for red
I also found an enormous old elderberry tree with trunk three-4 feet in diameter and - well I don't know but it could be 80 feet tall? Whereas Jepson classifies them as a shrub or small tree up to 8 meters.
(It's behind a deer fence on a neighbor's property.)
Hm. Suspicion: could it be the old tree is a planted garden elderberry, which has spawned all these others in the neighborhood? It looks older than the current development here which is about 45 years old, but they do grow rapidly.
There are a number of upright forms of the elderberry growing around the roadside too. They show the rather attractive bark, and also how those shoots that just spring up so quickly become thick but not very attractive branches, sticking up at odd angles.
Town mouse has a nursery bought blue elderberry growing rapidly and handsomely in her garden, and I'll be interested to see how my volunteers do compared to hers.
I do hope to do some formative pruning, though I'm not confident in my abilities as yet. I let the deer and bunnies do the formative pruning around here!
That's a volunteer coffeeberry, Rhamnus californica and this is its second formative pruning - the bunnies did the first one, and then I put the cage around. Now it's grown to the top of the cage, the deer have done a follow up. I'm sad but it's just as well as this is close to the house and is strictly illegal from the fire safety point of view.
Yes, there is also the question of fire safety. I'm happy to nurture the two or three elderberry volunteers that have appeared in the lower chaparral, but I'm not so sure about some that are right up on the flat bit near our home. If I keep them low and well watered, is that OK? I really want to use something taller along the fence line - where they have conveniently appeared!
Well, I'll keep you posted on the final decision - blue or red - when the berries color up!