Photo by Missouri Botanical Garden
This is a gangly shrub, native to the U.S., and raw material for jelly and wine. The fruits are dark-purple berries not much bigger than peppercorns. Each berry has one large seed surrounded by thin flesh. Not a berry for eating or pies. Instead you crush the berries and boil them with a little water to make strong juice. Add pectin, sugar, and some lemon juice to make jelly, or add sugar and yeast to make wine.
Though the shrub is gangly, with tall bare stems that are more brittle than woody, and leaves mostly at the top, when it flowers it is impressive. The flower stalks develop at the top of the stems. Each stalk makes three smaller stalks at the tip, the three new stalks branch three times at their tips, and those little stalks branch three times too. The result is like a small green tree. Eventually the original stalk can have eighty little stalks, every one tipped with a flower bud. So one stalk ends up as a disk the size of a salad plate made of little white flowers that last two weeks.
Supporting the principle that my native plant, the elderberry that I take for granted, is your exotic plant, which you prize if you live in another country, English gardeners fancy the elderberry and have even selected odd ones with variegated leaves, and there’s a European species with gorgeous, almost black leaves that’s coveted by U.S. gardeners.
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