The weather was so pleasant today that I ate my lunch outside. That in itself isn’t all that noteworthy but believe it or not I needed a light jacket. It was that chilly; breezy and overcast. I could have had hot soup instead of a summer salad. Very unusual for central Illinois so close to the 4th of July. The temperature barely made it to 70. It felt more like spring than early July. The windows were all open, and no air conditioning. Heavenly. Absolutely heavenly.
While I sat there enjoying the sights and sounds of summer in my backyard I noticed a very tall plant behind the lilacs with a large white flower that could be seen well above the tops of the bushes. There were 2 of them. Two stalks, at least 8 feet tall, one taller than the other, with lovely umbrella like white flowers at the top. What was that? I’d never seen it before. How could a plant that tall have escaped my notice? Well, it was behind the lilac bushes. That’s how. And our yard isn’t sophisticated. I’ve mentioned before that we’re not too fussy with our landscaping. We don’t use pesticides or fertilizers other than compost. So rooting out every weed isn’t on the top of the list. We coexist with the weeds. If they’re green and blend in then that’s just fine with us, for the most part. Our yard would never be featured on the cover of House and Garden or Turf Magazine. No, not by a long shot.
The tall plant was covered in bindweed, wrapped up tightly, and essentially attached to the lilac bush. I carefully unwound the bindweed in order to free the flower from its grasp. I wanted a closer look at this tall white flower. It reminded me ever so slightly of Queen Anne’s Lace but it was much too tall and the leaves weren’t right, and the flower wasn’t the same either. No, it was definitely NOT Queen Anne’s Lace. But what was it? And the fragrance. Such a lovely fragrance. It made me want to inhale, deeply. It was reminiscent of lilac. I think many flowers smell like lilac…the butterfly bush, koreanspice viburnum, and common milkweed all of which are in my yard. So I wasn’t surprised when this beautiful white flower reminded me of lilac.
I searched online in an attempt to identify this plant, but was getting nowhere so I decided to head out to the local nursery and ask the experts. I pulled out my phone to show the pictures to Miss Plant Expert and she said without any hesitation, “An elderberry. Definitely an elderberry. They began blooming just recently. Have you noticed them along the highways?”
Elderberry. Sounds promising. Berries. Made me think of mulberries. Are they edible? Are they sweet like mulberries? How did it get behind my lilacs, seemingly out of nowhere? I’ve heard of elderberry wine. Remember the movie, Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant? The sweet little old ladies added arsenic to elderberry wine in order to poison lonely old men. They felt they were doing them a favor. That is such a fun movie!
Miss Plant Expert told me many people cultivate them. They can be used as hedges and are often planted as “fences”. I did more online searching and it looks like elderberry can be used for just about anything that ails you; the flowers, the berries, and the leaves. They can be used externally as poultices, have antioxidant properties, are good for lowering cholesterol, help with the joint pain of arthritis, improve vision, reduce fevers, boost the immune system, and in 1995 elderberry juice was used in Panama against a flu epidemic. This looks promising. I found several articles, here and here and I can see I’ll be doing some more reading. I read that a tea made with mint and elderberry is very tasty. Well, I certainly have the mint.
But, there’s a warning attached to the elderberry plant. The berries should not be eaten fresh without cooking. Most uncooked berries and parts of the plant are considered to be poisonous. So, there will be no eating at will, right off the bush, as with mulberries.
But how did they get there behind the lilacs? The birds of course. The birds do an awful lot of planting don’t they?
I’ll be closely watching this elderberry throughout the rest of summer and into fall to see how it changes. Maybe I’ll even try to transplant it next spring along the back fence where it can grow unhindered.
How fun it is to discover a surprise in my own backyard! I bet if I keep my eyes open I’ll find even more.
What about your backyard? Have you found any surprises, noticed anything you hadn’t seen before? Go outside and take a look. I am sure you’ll find something that will wow you, something that will amaze, something that will show you the fingerprints of the Creator.