Thursday, June 10, 2010

Black Lace Elderberry: The Poor Man's Japanese Maple

This is the Black Lace Elderberry Sambucus nigra 
planted in front of my house.  I bought it in the summer of 2008 because, to me, it looked like a Japanese Maple.  And at the time, I couldn't really afford an actual Japanese Maple.  I've said it before but I'm a sucker for dark leafed plants.  And if they also have lacy Japanese Maple like leaves?  Who could pass that up?


The Black Lace Elderberry was named "Best New Plant" in 2006.  If left unpruned, it can reach 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide.  But, it can also be trained more like a tree or pruned hard immediately after it blooms to keep it compact for smaller spaces or containers.  I've really let mine go and it's sprawling up the front of my house and drooping at the sides.  I'm planning to cut it way back in the next couple of weeks.  It blooms late spring to early summer with delicate pink flower heads reaching up to 10 inches wide and towards the fall it produces clusters of edible berries the birds love.

Nearly every visitor to my garden asks me what this plant is.  And most of the time they think it's a Japanese Maple.  Sometimes I stare at it, feeling sorry for it.  A shrub whose only claim to fame is that it looks like a nicer, fancier tree.  Sad. My mom who lives in Tennessee bought this exact plant last year because she thought it looked like a Japanese Maple, too.  So, it's not just me.  I'm not saying it can really substitute for a J. Maple, but if you like the dark foliage found on the lacy varieties, you might want to try this hardy shrub in your garden.  Plant it in full sun and the leaves will turn a dark, almost eggplant color.  

11 comments:

  1. I love this plant; it's been on my want list for a while--I just don't have a sunny enough location for it! You can also make pancakes and champagne from the berries/flowers, according to Yolanda Elizabet!

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  2. I have 3 of these and I LOVE them. So beautiful. I love dark colored plants, they really make an impact in a usually green space.

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  3. I love the dark leaves. So striking! I can't believe it's the poor man's anything! People pay big bucks for colour like that!

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  4. No, no, no. Its black leaves are SO much more beautiful than almost any of the maples! Okay, in the right light, there is nothing like a glowing maple, but for the rest of us who don't want to fuss, this plant demands almost nothing and keeps right on giving back.
    Mine was very small (read inexpensive) when I bought it last year, and I suspect it won't flower this year, but it's growing like crazy.
    By the way, Monica: mine's in near-total shade between a garage and a high wall, but the secret is, it's a foot away from the composters and happy as a pig in whatever seeps off the compost piles.
    (I'm growing it to beautify that corner!)
    Thanks for this paean to one of my newfound garden favourites.

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  5. What Japanese Maple could have such nice flowers as this though? Definitely a favourite shrub of mine.

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  6. I've actually seen this promoted as a substitute for Japanese Maple for those who can't grow JPs. I bought one last June and it has grown so FAST! They're just beautiful and I think I might just buy another one or two. Beautiful photo, Gina!

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  7. Hi Gina.I think it is such a beautiful plant. I can see substituting it and you even get the wonderful blooms along with it. My plain native Elderberries are blooming along the woods and they smell so wonderful.

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  8. Yours is beautiful Gina. They are such sturdy, reliable plants.

    I've had one in a shady spot for four years, and last year started two from cuttings (very easy to root.) The foliage isn't as dark, but they grow beautifully even in dry shade. I got mine for the Japanese maple look too.

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  9. I love the idea of the poor man's anything actually being better than the original.

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  10. Poor Man's J. Maple or not, it is a beautiful plant! I too have wanted to get one because of the dark foliage and resemblance to a J. Maple. I think that's their biggest appeal.

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  11. This is a real show-stopper. It is very hardy as well. We had a killer winter up here in upstate New York, and this plant was the first to bud this spring. It doe's need judicious pruning
    (pretty much all season) but it is spectacular. Fruit will not appear until the 3rd year.

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