Shrubs, small trees and occasionally perennials, often grown for their coloured foliage and fruits. Growing on most soils and conditions. Can be cut back hard every couple of years to encourage and enhance the new foliage. Flowers are individually small, white to pink, but when in good sized umbels they can be very showy (S. canadensis), or when contrasting against the purple foliage, as in the form 'Thundercloud'. There are around 22 species across much the world, including one native, S. nigra, the elderberry. Flowers can be used to make wine or cordial, berries in pies and jellies, or to make a traditional Victorian Pontack Sauce.

Elders produce usually flattened clusters of small flowers that are attractive to all sorts of insects, from hoverflies to thrips. The berries, while poisonous to us unless cooked, are food for all sorts of garden birds: starlings seem especially fond of them. Despite the foetid smell of the leaves (a swatch of them is often used as a 'shoo-fly'), elders are larval food plants for a number of larger moths, including the swallowtailed moth. And last but not least, the rough bark at the base of the trunks is often covered with a rich assemblage of mosses and any dead branches are likely to be colonised by the (surprisingly tasty!) jelly ear fungus.

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