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Help me identify this plant? Elderberry?

 
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I found this growing under my deck. Can anyone identify it? I think it might be nettles but I'm uncertain.
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Not like any nettle I've ever come across. It looks like elderberry to me.
 
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yep. pretty elderberry-esque.
 
Malek Beitinjan
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Thanks for the help! Based on what I'm looking up it does seem to resemble elderberry. I'll wait for it to flower and hopefully I can make a positive ID then.

On a more meta level, I'm curious how one develops the skill of identifying plants. Is it just about experience? Is there any literature/references y'all would recommend?
 
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If you are looking for books, I think Samuel Thayer is the best. You can buy his books here. He only writes about plants he has personal experience in foraging and eating. I like this, I know what he states is accurate, and not based on some obscure reference that is too vague to be useful.

Green Deanne is a good resource. He has posted hundreds of articles on Eat The Weeds. He has a forum for identifying plants accessible through that page. If youtube is your thing, he also has a channel there.

For a pocket field guide, Patterson's Guide to Wild Plants is a good one.

Thomas Elpel has a great book, Botany in a Day. The subtitle says it all: "The Patterns Methos of Plant Identification"
 
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Malek Ascha wrote:
On a more meta level, I'm curious how one develops the skill of identifying plants. Is it just about experience? Is there any literature/references y'all would recommend?



There are methodologies to plant identification such as plants from certain families share certain characteristics. For example mustard always smells like mustard and grass always has nodules between segments (think bamboo) so learning the general characteristics can help identify some plants. For more specific identification it is about experience, getting a foraging guide for your area at a local library could help you learn what is near you. Having someone show you what is what in person is always the best way to go and help you avoid error.

From my experience with elderberry I think It does resemble an elderberry but there should be flower buds well before the leaves get that big, but that does appear to be a younger plant and could be a different variety than I'm familiar with. But based on the leaf shape, amount of teeth along the blade, color of the lead it all looks like elderberry. But I would also look at the stem/trunk because on mature bushes it is fairly unique. When elderberry flowers/fruits it is a dead giveaway as to what it is. Another way I can tell is that elderberry is that at the ends of the branch 3 leaves are at the tip with a pair of parallel leaves behind it.
 
Malek Beitinjan
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Thanks for the tips! I'm loving how helpful this community is.
 
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young elder may not flower but if you look at the stems they will be slightly knobbly and if you break one they are hollow, also the leaves smell VILE when you crush them.

Identifying plants is just practice, I often wonder how people can not see the difference between different weeds in the field, but then I remember I was being dragged around rare flowers as soon as I could walk. Buy yourself a field guide for your area and start looking up plants start with ones in flower it makes it a lot easier. once you've got 30 or 40 down in your memory the guide can become toilet reading, if you read it there after you have got a bit of experience you will find you can identify plants you have never seen before just from your memory of the book.
 
T Simpson
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Skandi Rogers wrote:also the leaves smell VILE when you crush them.



After I read this I ran outside to my mature red elderberry to try this, I thought they smelled quite nice; almost like cut grass. Is it just the young plants that smell?
 
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T Simpson said

I ran outside to my mature red elderberry to try this, I thought they smelled quite nice; almost like cut grass.    


It may be that different elder species smell different.  I only have experience of Sambucus Nigra, and agree with Skandi that the leaves smell quite unpleasant.  I don't think it matters how old the plant is.  The American species (S canadensis) and Red berried elder (S. racemosa) might smell better.  Does anyone have both (or three) and can do a comparison?
 
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T Simpson wrote:

Skandi Rogers wrote:also the leaves smell VILE when you crush them.



After I read this I ran outside to my mature red elderberry to try this, I thought they smelled quite nice; almost like cut grass. Is it just the young plants that smell?


This might vary from person to person. I don't think the smell is vile, I quite like it.
But I have to admit this looks very much like our elderberry but a bit less - glossy?

Regarding plant identification:
It has to do with practice, but also with the willingness to look closely. I know people with a garden who can identify only some plants, and then only when they bloom. With some decades of planting and observing I can now identify lots of plants. There might be also an initial preference that can be strengthened through practice. For example, I absolutely lack this preference with car types. If you ask me what car a person drives I can vaguely tell if it is black or white or rather long or very small. All the other details escape me!
 
Malek Beitinjan
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A big thank you to everyone who responded. I've been looking under my deck more to see what else is growing - it's practically a little ecosystem down there! One thing I noticed is that the elderberry plant has many shoots which are trapped under the deck and not reaching out like the ones in my original photo. They are getting what little light comes through the cracks of the deck, although they're quite sparse. I was thinking it might be fun to take them as cuttings, and then plant them in pots so they can grow on top of the deck with some more sun, rather than under it.

One drawback I can think of is that I haven't actually tasted the berries from this plant yet, so they might actually be terrible and not worth growing more of. However, I'm worried that as soon as any appear, they'll be instantly eaten since they're so close to the ground - lots of little critters running around here.

See photos to show what I mean. I also included photos of some of the other plants growing down there - if you recognize any, let me know!
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Not sure what this is, but there's lots of little spines on it.
Not sure what this is, but there's lots of little spines on it.
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This is the elderberry plant sprouting from the ground and up into the deck.
This is the elderberry plant sprouting from the ground and up into the deck.
 
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The spiny ones are something in the Rubus genus...looks like a trailing type...perhaps a dewberry?
 
Nancy Reading
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In the first picture the plant with the whorls of leaves may be cleavers, seeeattheweeds. It's supposed to be a good edible, but I've not tried it (yet).
 
T Simpson
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Malek Ascha wrote:
One drawback I can think of is that I haven't actually tasted the berries from this plant yet, so they might actually be terrible and not worth growing more of.



Just in case you don't know I think it is worth mentioning that elderberries are poisonous if eaten raw (skin/seeds if I remember correctly) so they are typically filtered and turned into jam or wine. Birds love them though...got to them before I did last year...
 
Malek Beitinjan
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An update: Some of the elderberry plant was growing through a gate, so I had to cut it. I took a couple of cuttings from what I removed and planted them in pots. I made hugel pots inspired by this edible acres vid. I also added parsley seeds to the pot, so we'll see if those sprout. I've had wine caps sitting in wood chips in plastic tubs for a few months, no fruit yet but the mycelium is healthy. I used those at the bottom of each pot. I also dipped the cuttings in a honey+water solution, to encourage rooting.



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Malek Beitinjan
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Another update! Here in the city, when an arborist working for the county cuts down a tree, typically they just chop it up and then toss it in a pile near the stump. I have located several such piles. From what I can see, they are slowly being taken over by poison oak and dewberry brambles, which are the native plants that spread most easily here. I saw this as an opportunity to plant some elderberry cuttings. I think that one of the reasons the elderberry was growing so well under my deck was the shelter from wind - it gets VERY windy here by the coast. I figured that these slash piles could serve a similar function if I planted cuttings right by the edge.

I tried to focus on piles that had poison oak sprouting out of them. I ripped out the poison oak and planted the cuttings in their place. I only did 7 cuttings today - the ground was quite hard, difficult to work with. Hopefully after it rains this weekend the ground will be softer and I can plant more. I also found a somewhat fresh pile of deer droppings by one of the piles. I put some of those in the hole I made for the cuttings - I'm sure it'll only be helpful!

As always, advice/constructive criticism is appreciated!
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Since this post is about identifying elderberry, ive got the plant below growing in my yard. Plant.id says its red elderberry, but i cant find photos of elderberry at this stage or with this color blossoms. Is that a correct identification?
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Anita Martin
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I am not really familiar with red elderberry but the shape of the flowerbud seems to confirm it.
Here is a picture of a plant of Sambucus racemosa 'Plumosa Aurea' that resembles the shape of yours although not the colours. Probably there are more breeder varieties?
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