Elderberry Diary Excerpt September 4th, 2016

Shannon Lauderdale

 My 'special' elderberry plant once again did great this year. Thought I should write down the full story today while I still have the details and dates in my head. 

In June of 2011 I hiked many miles to find and take notes on every local wild elderberry plant I could find. That summer we had an awful drought and at elderberry harvest time when I returned to the ones that I had previously noted as likely superior many were dead, dying, or in extreme distress. There was, however, one plant that stood out, it was in a fence line on public land and looking extremely healthy despite the drought and was loaded with berries. I thought that maybe it had an underground water source but dismissed that as unlikely because of the surrounding plants that looked stressed and wilted. I noted this plant as drought resistant and picked one elderberry cluster to take back and examine the berries closer.

I found that while the berries were of average size that the inside of these berries were different. Most wild elderberries have 7-9 seeds inside, these berries had an average of 5, which meant more juice! Although my study of it seeds was not exactly valid because all the berries I opened were from one cluster on the plant and not random from clusters the prospect of less seeds looked very promising!!  My plan was to come back mid winter and take a few cuttings of this fine elderberry, grow it out and study it. When I returned in January to take my cutting I found the fence line had been cleared.....the elderberry gone!!! Not only had the fence line been brush hogged, it had also been sprayed so I knew there was little chance that I would find anything left of that elderberry plant. Talk about elderberry sadness.... I looked anyway where I remembered it being.....nothing but dead plants. I still had the seeds of the cluster of berries from this now gone wonderful elderberry plant at home. I counted them, I had about 300 seeds from the 60 berry's that I had popped open to get my 5 average seed count.  I researched off and on all spring and summer exactly how to plant elderberry seeds in the fall to have success, so by fall when it was time to plant my precious seeds I was ready. When spring came in 2013 I had tiny elderberry sprouts!! I created two 260 feet rows to transplant all I could.

I have now had many years to evaluate these plants from the seeds of that wonderful long gone elderberry plant and of the 200 plants that I was able to get out of the original plant most seem to be just average elderberry plants.... except for one!!  This one elderberry plant produces bigger berries in draping clusters not the usual 'dinner plate' clusters. A brix test shows the berries sweeter than Wyldewood or Bob Gordon. Harvest is on the same timeline as the Bob Gordons. I have now taken several cuttings off this original plant and have almost half a row of these bigger, sweeter elderberries. I am not a scientist so I do not know a lot about this new elderberry plant but I do know that the one year when I pruned it to the ground the year after it produced noticeably fewer clusters, so I do not intend to prune it to the ground again. I would have loved to have had cuttings from the original drought resistant, few seeds, elderberry plant but this one baby of that plant seems to have its own great characteristics! I intend to name it Maitland, that was our family name until coming to America. 

Maitland elderberry plant

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