OTHER COMMON NAMES: MEXICAN ELDERBERRY, TAPIRO, SAUCO
Sambucus mexicana (sam-BOO-kus mex-eh-KAH-nah)
Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle family)
Mostly evergreen ornamental tree
HEIGHT: 10-15 feet but known to reach 35 feet
SPREAD: 10-15 feet
FINAL SPACING: 10-15 feet
NATURAL HABITAT AND PREFERRED SITE: Grows primarily from El Paso to Del Rio and likes moist soils. It’s a tree that could probably be used in much more of Texas except for the most northern parts.
IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION: Mexican elder is a beautiful small tree that is usually evergreen but sometimes drops its leaves during hot summers if not watered regularly. If you don’t mind the partial defoliation, the tree is relatively drought tolerant. It has a nice flower display primarily in early summer and in the fall. It also has berries that are attractive and eaten by birds.
FLOWERS AND FRUIT: Flowers are clusters of white to pale yellow and bloom primarily in early summer and in the fall. The small fruit look similar to clusters of dark blue or black berries and attract several species of birds. When the fruit is fully ripe it is covered with a dense white bloom.
BARK: Young bark is smooth but the main trunks become furrowed with age.
FOLIAGE: The leaves are primarily evergreen except when drought of summer causes partial defoliation. Leaves have 3-7 leaflets that are serrated (toothed) except at the base and point. Both sides are green and the texture ranges from smooth to fuzzy.
CULTURE: This is a tree that can be grown in the warm half of the state and responds well to soil moisture even though it is a drought tolerant tree. It has few pest problems and needs little fertilizer. It’s a perfect tree for the organic program. It’s a fairly fast grower too.
PROBLEMS: Few if any other than freeze damage in the northern part of the state.
PROPAGATION: I have to be honest – have never propagated this plant. But, I think it would be easy to grow from the seed in the blue-black fruit. Give it a try and let me know what you see. Other books have reported that it can be started from softwood cuttings.
INSIGHT: As with all elderberries, this tree likes plenty of water and given that moisture it will grow quite fast. The result is brittle branches that can be frozen back. This is just a cosmetic problem.