The Elder is more a tree of the wayside than
of the woodland, often of low bushy growth; but
where it finds good loamy soil with abundant moisture
it will attain a height of twenty feet.
None of out trees grows more rapidly in its earliest
years, and any bit of its living wood will readily
take root, so that its presence in the hedge is
often due to planting for the purpose of rapidly
erecting a live screen. Its quickly grown juicy
shoots soon harden into a tube of tough wood with
a core of pith which is readily extracted, and
renders the tube available as a blow-pipe, a pop-gun,
or a music pipe. Such uses have been known from
remote antiquity. It is thus probable that the
housewife got her bellows, the musician his pipe,
and the small boy his pop-gun, all from the same
The stems are coated with a grey corky bark. When
old, the wood becomes hard and heavy, and has
been used as a substitute for box.
The leaf is divided into five, seven, or nine
oval leaflets with toothed edges.
The flower is rotate in form, that is, the corolla
forms a very short tube, from the mouth of which
five petal-like lobes spread flat. This is a quarter
of an inch broad, and creamy-white in colour,
giving out an odour which some persons consider
offensive. Large numbers of these small flowers
are gathered into flat-topped cymes, five or six
inches in diameter. The primary stalks of these
cymes are five in number.
The flowers are succeeded by small globular berries,
ultimately of a purple-black hue, and of mawkish
flavour, which are yet much sought after by country
people for the making of Elderberry Wine, which
they credit with marvellous medicinal powers.
It is doubtful if the Elder still retains among
rustic folk much of the reputation of long ago
for the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark
Occasionally one may find in the hedgerow an Elder
with its leaflets deeply cut into very slender
lobes, so that the leaf has resemblance to that
of Fool’s Parsley. This is an escape from
cultivation – a garden variety (laciniata)
known as the Cut-leaved or Parsley-leaved Elder
and decidedly ornamental.