Plant of the Week: Eva black elderberry

he Chelsea Thicket on the High Line is a diverse collection of plants and dependent bird species that nest and forage for food year-round. This week, the Eva black elderberry, Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla 'Eva', is opening its flowers to the public, both human and avian.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

The species Sambucus nigra has ranges in Europe, Asia, and North Africa with representation in nearly every state in the United States as a garden escape. 'Eva' is a cultivated garden variety of the species that is a small shrub or tree, growing to approximately eight feet tall and wide. It has a knack for surviving in a range of growing conditions, and can be found in both moist and arid soils in sunny locations, in waste lands and woods. The leaves of 'Eva' are deep purple, highly dissected, lacy, and reminiscent of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). The dark foliage stands in stunning contrast to the flowers, which are pink to white, fragrant, and pollinated by flies. The flowers typically open in June in the NYC region, though this year they are blooming in mid-May on the High Line. The flowers hang in a corymb, which is a special structure where multiple flowers (called an inflorescence) are clustered together around a central flower stalk (called a pedicel), with the lower flower pedicels longer than the central pedicel so all the flowers end on the same height and level in the inflorescence.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

The fruit is a dark black or red, delicious edible berry that has been widely used by herbalists to treat respiratory, gastrointestinal, skin irritations, and viral illnesses such as influenza. Black elderberries are cultivated for jams, teas, cordials, syrups, and liqueurs such as St. Germain. Sambucus nigra is an important wildlife plant, in particular for migratory birds, as both a nesting site and food source. Berries achieve peak ripeness in late autumn and should only be consumed when ripe as the unripe fruit is toxic.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla 'Eva' is a forgiving plant that can handle a wide range of moisture conditions, but it performs best in sunnier sites. The plant spreads through vigorous seeding and root suckering that helps the shrub to form colonies, but in a garden setting it can be contained through weeding and pruning. It thrives between hardiness zones 4 and 7. Branches can be broken by heavy snows and high winds, so it would benefit from wind protection and a planting location where it can be allowed to spread. Pruning is required to maintain the overall structure of the shrub, so cutting back one-year old stems halfway to encourage stronger growth is recommended, and cutting the plant down to the ground (also known as rejuvenation pruning) may occasionally be necessary to retrain the overall habit.

Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla 'Eva' can be found in the Chelsea Thicket, between 21st and 22nd Streets

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 500 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. Every week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects.

TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.

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