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Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis 'Aurea': 'Aurea' American Elder

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, and Deborah R. Hilbert


A fast-growing deciduous shrub, American elder suckers quite easily and is often seen as a broad, spreading, multistemmed plant with bright green, pinnately compound, 12- to 14-inch-long yellow leaves arranged along the arching branches. But it can be effectively pruned into a nice, small, single or multi-stemmed tree but needs regular pruning to remove suckers growing from the base of the plant. In early summer (northern part of its range) or sporadically all year long (in USDA hardiness zone 9), American elder is literally smothered with 6- to 10-inch-wide clusters of yellowish-white blooms. These are followed by a multitude of small, cherry red berries which are quite popular with birds, and can be used in pies, jellies, or fermented to make a wine.

Mature Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis 'Aurea': 'Aurea' American elder.
Figure 1. Mature Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis 'Aurea': 'Aurea' American elder.
Credit: UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis 'Aurea'

Pronunciation: sam-BEW-kuss nigh-gruh subspecies kan-uh-DEN-sis

Common name(s): 'Aurea' American elder, 'Aurea' common elder

Family: Viburnaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 4A through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to North America

Invasive potential: native cultivar

Uses: container or planter; reclamation; trained as a standard; deck or patio; specimen

Figure 2. Range.
Credit: UF/IFAS


Height: 8 to 13 feet

Spread: 6 to 10 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: round

Crown density: open

Growth rate: moderate

Texture: fine


Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite

Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound

Leaf margin: serrate

Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), lanceolate

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: deciduous

Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches, 4 to 8 inches

Leaf color: yellow

Fall color: yellow

Fall characteristic: not showy


Flower color: white/cream/gray

Flower characteristics: showy


Fruit shape: round

Fruit length: less than 0.5 inch

Fruit covering: fleshy

Fruit color: red

Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns

Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure

Breakage: susceptible to breakage

Current year twig color: gray

Current year twig thickness: thick

Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; alkaline; well-drained; extended flooding

Drought tolerance: moderate

Aerosol salt tolerance: unknown


Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: no

Outstanding tree: no

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: susceptible

Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Ideal for use in naturalized landscapes where it will tolerate acid or alkaline soil and even some drought, American elder performs best in full sun on moist to wet, fertile soils. Plant it in the shrub border or locate it next to the patio for a wonderful flower display. The plant is often overlooked by the trade perhaps because it is so commonly found in and along the woods, but it has a place in the garden, although its rather random habit would not make it popular in the commercial landscape. Requires pruning to create a neat small tree.

A few cultivars include: 'Acutiloba', leaflets very deeply divided, a nice fine-textured plant; 'Adams', fruits in dense, large clusters, excellent for baking. There are a variety of other very attractive species.

Propagation is by seed or cuttings.


Borers, occasional leaf-chewing insects, may infest this tree.


American elder can be infected by cankers, leaf spots, powdery mildew.

Publication #ENH-737

Release Date:May 6, 2024

Related Collections

Part of Southern Trees Fact Sheets

Related Topics

  • Critical Issue: 1. Agricultural and Horticultural Enterprises
Organism ID

About this Publication

This document is ENH-737, one of a series of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006 and March 2024. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Ryan W. Klein, assistant professor, arboriculture; and Deborah R. Hilbert, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Department of Environmental Horticulture; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Michael Andreu
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