Shrub to 3 m tall Leaves: opposite, pinnately compound. Leaflets five to eleven (usually seven), to 10 cm long, to 5 cm wide, lance-shaped to egg-shaped with pointed tip, sharply saw-toothed, often hairy beneath. Flowers: borne in large, flat-topped or dome-shaped terminal clusters (cymes), white, 3 - 5 mm wide, fragrant, numerous. Cyme five-rayed from base, lacking central axis beyond lowermost branches, to 30 cm wide (much broader than long). Corolla five-lobed. Stamens five. Anthers yellow. Fruit: berry-like (drupe), juicy, in clusters, dark purple (seldom yellow, green, or red), 5 mm long. There are three to five stones inside each drupe. Twigs: scarcely woody when young. Pith large, white. Form: upright.
Similar species: Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens is similar but has egg-shaped cymes, a brown pith, fruit that is usually bright red, and a flowering time that ends by June. Also, the occasional variety S. canadensis var. acutiloba differs by having deeply dissected leaves.
Flowering: June to late August
Habitat and ecology: Common in degraded woodlands and shaded floodplains. It is also common along roadsides, fencerows, and small streams.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: The pith of this plant is soft enough to be removed from the stem, enabling the stem to be made into a whistle or flute.
Etymology: Sambucus comes from the Greek word sambuke, a musical instrument made of elder wood. Canadensis means "of or from Canada and North America."
Shrub to 3 m, spreading underground and eventually forming thickets; younger stems scarcely woody, with long internodes and large white pith; lfls 5-11, usually 7, lanceolate to ovate, variable in size, acuminate, sharply serrate (rarely laciniate), the lower occasionally divided into 3, glabrous or more often hairy beneath; infl 5-rayed from the base, flat or convex, 5-15 cm wide; fls white, 3-5 mm wide; fr purple-black (seldom red, green, or yellow), edible, 5 mm; 2n=36. Moist woods, fields, and roadsides; N.S. and Que. to Man. and S.D., s. to Mex. and the W. Ind. July, Aug. The common phase in most of our range, with the lf-pubescence mostly setulose and largely restricted to the veins, is var. canadensis. Ozarkian plants, from Ill. to Tex., with fine short pubescence on both the veins and the lf-surface, may be distinguished as var. submollis Rehder.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.