Sambucus nigra subsp. caerulea (S. mexicana, misapplied)
A native plant on campus and at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, blue elderberry can easily be located in wild places and roadsides when in flower, or later when the ¼-inch blue-black berries appear. They come in rich clusters and have a white bloom. The compound leaves are quite characteristic, being about 8 inches long with about seven toothed leaflets.
There is a large one behind the Mausoleum among the California bay trees, another on Galvez Street opposite Memorial Way, one in the northwest corner of Lasuen Street and Roth Way, and a large four-trunked specimen at the start of a path that leaves Lasuen Mall heading southwest from the Graduate School of Business south toward Serra Mall. A specimen reported just to the south of 3181 Alpine Road by Dorothy Regnery in 1989 was then about 9 feet around, 20 feet tall, and a candidate for the National Register of Big Trees maintained by American Forests of Washington, D.C.
The quantities of berries that can be collected in the neighborhood are edible when fresh and also readily processed into jelly. Following custom, my daughter scrapes off the large flower clusters for use, after shaking out the insects, as an alternative to vanilla. Elderberry wine is made from S. canadensis in the Eastern United States while a variety of S. nigra is the basis of the internationally known Sambuca liqueur. The plant has hollow stalks that are slightly toxic, and red or white berries are to be strictly avoided. The name derives from sambuke, a Greek musical instrument, possibly the sackbut, a pipe whose pitch was changed by a slide.
Name derivation: Sambucus – from the Greek word sambuke, see California Plant Names, compiled by Michael L. Charters.
About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the S. mexicana entry in the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. Name corrected to S. nigra subsp. caerulea by Sairus Patel Feb 2018.