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Thursday, May 18, 2017



Thursday, 8:30 AM.  41 degreesF at the ferry dock, 38 on the back porch.  Wind NE, light to moderate.  The sky is overcast and cloudy, and it is still raining lightly after torrentia rains again last night  The humidity is 93%, the barometer rising, now at 29.63". It will clear later in the day and tomorrow should be dry, but rain is forecast again for Saturday.  Ditches are running full in the city, and local creeks and rivers will be close to flood stage.
   The red elderberry Sambucus pubens, in the Honeysuckle Family, is not nearly as well known as the common American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, as it is a more northern species (it also is an important part of the western montane flora).  It is almost as attractive in flower as the American elderberry, the minute flowers occurring in more compact, cone-shaped umbels than the umbrella-like compound flowers of American elderberry.  And whereas the fruit of the latter species is blue-black and edible, the fruit of the former is bright red and it is quite acid to the taste and reported to be mildly poisonous to human uinless cooked, although I eat them without any obvious ill effects, Both species are good for jams and jellies and are also important wildlife plants, both for browse and for their fruits. The red elderberry prefers wet locations but will grow on drier sites, and on a variety of soils.  It is fairly shade tolerant but prefers full sun.
    There is some evidence that leaves, stems and roots of both species can be poisonous to humans, but I doubt people would eat those parts so it is not much of a concern, but it might be best not to put leaves or stems in one's mouth without some experimentation.     Elderberry plants have medicinal properties, and were used in a variety of ways by both Native Americans and European settlers.  The central pith of stems and branches is very soft and can easily be removed to make whistles and other useful objects and were so used in the past.  
   Both American and red elderberry are attractive in flower and fruit, as are their pinnately compound leaves.  The feather-compound leaf of the American elderberry has seven leaflets, that of the red elderberry five. Both species spread by root suckers and are hard to control in the smaller landscape.  My rule of thumb is, appreciate them in nature and where they can be controlled, but be careful introducing them into the landscape.   A case in point is the red elderberry that I have in the backyard.  It grew up between the crevices of a small rock wall and it was so persistent I finally decided that I would let it grow and make use of it rather than to unsuccessfully try to eliminate it.  For a further discussion of elderberries, use the blog search engine.

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