Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Ages ago, I briefly lived in a warehouse on the Carquinez Strait. The town of 300 was the remnants of an old ferry crossing to Benicia. Not too long ago, Port Costa supported at least one brothel, several saloons, and a few restaurants and shops. When I lived there, an elderly woman in her 90s would find her way to the town bench and wait for a local gentlemen to help her cross the street (which never had enough traffic to ever worry). She would cross, slowly, so she could sit at the remaining town bar where she had a few nips before being escorted back home. She was the town's remaining retired prostitute...needless to say she had stories. But during the summer, she might skip her routine. We knew it meant she was out collecting elderberries for some homemade wine, fermenting them in a large stockpot. I don't recall her ever sharing the final product, but it was always the talk of the town.
Our Sambucus nigra subsp. caerulea is in full bloom right now this May. Soon, deep purple black berries will form. If it weren't for the birds that love them, I would be tempted to give the elderberry wine a go. The tree becomes a little ragged, and when it does, a hard pruning might be in order...or at least some significant shaping. While our tree is small and multi-trunk, I have seen larger specimens, about 25' high and wide, thriving in Sonoma County. Bees and butterflies love them, too.
Botanical Name: Sambucus nigra subspecies caerulea
Common Name: Blue elderberry
Origin: California to British Columbia
Sunset Zones: 2-24; H1
Plant Type: Deciduous tree (or large shrub)
Optimal Height and Spread: 30' x 20'
Exposure: Full sun to light shade
Form: Multi-trunk, rounded
Primary Feature: Clusters of white flowers in spring followed by bluish-black edible berries
Noted for low toxicity in leaves, roots, and stems