Differences between elder and dwarf elder

What are the differences between Sambucus nigra and Sambucus ebulus ?

How to differentiate an elder from a dwarf elder taking into account their  leaves, fruits and general bearing

The first characteristic that differentiates elder (Sambucus nigra) from  dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus)  is the general appearance of the plant. Elder is a tree or branched tree about 6-10 meters high. A dwarf elder, on the other hand, is a shrub that does not usually exceed 2 meters high and that gives off a characteristic foul smell.

Differential characteristics of dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus)

Dwarf elder
General aspect of dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus), which should not be confused with common elder. Dwarf elder leaves are thinner and elongated than those of common elder.

Dwarf elder, also called danewort, dane weed, dwarf elderberry or blood hilder,   is a plant with the following main characteristics:

  • Hight:  A couple of meters
  • Leaves: opposite leaves with a very unpleasant smell
  • Flowers: White or pink flowers, in irregular corymbs, not flat and berries that bloom in autumn whose juice was formerly used to make  dye and its to combat the bites of rabid dogs. Flowers and fruits not hanging, but facing the sky.

If it is this plant, you better not touch it because it is very poisonous and the fruits can be deadly, especially in children.

Although it has been used as a medicinal plant with the same properties as elderberry, given the extreme toxicity of its fruits, it should not be used in home medicine.

How to differentiate elder from dwarf elder focusing on their  leaves

If you are used to seeing elder, you will see that the dwarf elder has completely different leaves: narrower and elongated than those of elder. See below a comparative photo of both plants:

Comparison between the leaves of common elder and dwarf elder
Photo of leaves of dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus) (left) and elder (Sambucus nigra) (right)

Comparison photos of dwarf elder and elder

More photos on elder leaves  and dwarf elder  to see the difference in the shape of the leaves:

dwarf elder leaves
Dwarf elder leaves (Sambucus ebulus)


Elder leaves
Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)
  • Dwarf elder leaves:  Its leaves are thinner and elongated than those of elder
  • Elder leaves: Clearly wider than those of dwarf elder.

Differences between elder and dwarf elder considering their flowers

It is very easy to distinguish these two plants comparing their flowers:

  • Elder flowers: The arboreal aspect of elder  and its broad corymbs full of flowers, flattened, facing the sky, are the main hallmark of this plant.
  • Dwarf elder flowers: It  has a bushy appearance, narrow, irregular corymbs not as flattened as those of elderberry.
Corymb photo of elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) forming its fruits.
The arboreal bearing of the elderberry and its broad corymbs, facing the sky, are the main hallmark of this plant.

Differences between elder  and dwarf elder based on  their fruits

Sambucus nigra fruits
Elder fruits (Sambucus nigra)
Sambucus ebulus fruits
Dwarf elder fruits (Sambucus ebulus)

Elder berries are characteristically  pendulous, that is, they hang from the branches when they ripen. Instead, dwarf elder produces fruits that remain high, not hanging from the branches. Again, the leaves and the tree bearing will help us finish distinguishing the elderberry.

  • Elder fruits: Elderberries  hang from the branches when they ripen. They are included in a wide dense inflorescence (corymb)
  • Dwarf elder fruits: The fruits of the dwarf elder are not hanging, but they held high. They are included in a less wide and dense inflorescence (corymb) that that of elder. Look again at the leaves, elongated and narrow.

Botanical differences between elder and dwarf elder (drawings)

The following drawings are suitable to illustrate the main differences between the two plants

Botanical differences between dwarf elder and elder

punto rojo More information on elder

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

24 October, 2019

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