Friday, August 26, 2011


elderberry grove
When I was an anthropology undergraduate student one of my professors always liked to point out to us that this part of the country (the southeast, and most particularly the midsouth) had/has the most biodiversity in both plants and animals of the land of the United States.  The indigenous culture here (Mississippian Culture mound builders) built temple mounds second only to those in Mexico in height, and the temple complex/cities, including Chuckalissa here in the Memphis area and Pinson in the Jackson, TN area, and of course Cahokia further north on the Mississippi, were home to populations larger than most European cities at the time.  The Mound Building people farmed extensively, had trade routes extending to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and population centers in the southwest, and harvested the bounty that our woods and fields here continue to offer:  nuts, blackberries, muscadines, passion fruit, pawpaws, jerusalem artichokes, acorns, persimmons, elderberries, and more.  I grew up picking these free offerings in the woods and along the roads around here and in the "mother earth"days of the 1970's while I was in college, learned to can and make fruit leathers to preserve the free harvest (adding in crabapples, which a lot of subdivision home owners planted as ornamental trees).

elderberry flower head

Those woods and fields and country roads with dirt paths along side are pretty much gone now from my suburban town, but I try to maintain a bit of the feeling in my own yard.  These are pictures from my back of the driveway elderberry grove.  It's thriving, with plants towering above the back fence.  In June and July there were huge heads of almost hydrangia like blooms.

setting fruit

In August the bloom give way to 8 inch in diameter umbrellas of ripening berries.  Usually the ripe berries only stay on the bush a moment before being eaten up by birds, but this year I have been able to harvest a lot myself.  I don't know if it's because there is more fruit set than the wildlife can eat this year or if the wildlife is feasting better elsewhere (like on my figs and tomatoes, which I find pecked, picked, and littered around the back yard!).
the ripened fruit
Thank goodness for being able to plunk berries into freezer bags and into the freezer, to wait for cooler days to transform them into jam or syrup.  A mere 50-60 years ago women would have been sweating over enormous kettles of boiling fruits and vegetables, steaming cauldrons of water to immerse the jars containing the garden harvest, without the relief of the air conditioning that we now retreat to recover from a trip to the mailbox!

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

Thanks for the comment today on my blog. I am trying very hard to get to know more of my readers and your blog is wonderful!

I don't think we have every had elderberries but this summer in WY we had huckleberries and everyone said that they are similar. You have a great crop!

I really enjoyed visiting your blog and it is going in my Google Reader. :)

Ann said...

Very informative post. Thank you! You've solved a mystery for me. The deep ravine behind our house has several of these large plants growing wild in it. Now I know what they are. The birds love the berries!

Thanks for the comment on my blog today. I'm enjoying the opportunity to "meet" other great bloggers.

Karen/The Well Seasoned Nest said...

Hi Diana - So glad you found me, so I could find you! It appears we have much in common. I like your writing style - interesting AND informative! I love the idea of getting to know you better, if only in blogland.

Never had elderberries, but have enjoyed the jam before.

Do drop by again! Best - Karen

Barb @ A Life in Balance said...

I've heard of elderberries, but I wouldn't be able to identify them, though I think they grow up here in the mid-Atlantic.

I was going to try to glean wild apples this year, and forgot all about it. Thanks for the reminder! I've noticed several fruit trees going to waste in our neighborhood, just never had the time to ask the homeowners if I could pick and share the harvest with them.

Manuela@A Cultivated Nest said...

Yes, I agree, thank goodness we can freeze stuff and deal with it later. I planted two varieties of elderberries this year. Looking at yours I had no idea they can get so big. I'm thinking I haven't given them enough room!