Elderberry Types

Types And Varieties Of Elderberry: Classification And Differences

There are several elderberry varieties to be aware of, according to its most recent taxonomic categorization as a species. The Caprifoliaceae family was originally assigned to the genus Sambucus based on nucleotide sequences of the internal transcribed spacer region of nuclear ribosomal DNA and preliminary morphology. After genetic analysis and morphological comparison, it was reclassified as Adoxaceae.

The genus Sambucus includes all elderberry species, which are found worldwide, particularly in Asia, Australia, South America, and the Middle East. We may encounter cultivars within each species of elderberry, such as ‘Nova,’ ‘Johns,’ and so on. People frequently refer to these plants as elderberry ‘varieties,’ but the elderberries they’re talking about are cultivars or cultivated variations. Cultivars are plants that have been selected and propagated by humans for their desirable characteristics. Varieties are natural populations of plants reproduced by seeds.  

Elderberries are a diverse group of wild, semi-domesticated, and farmed species that share numerous morphological, physiological, genetic, biological, and biochemical properties. The differences between each variety of elderberry are based on their environmental and genetic factors, detailed compositions, and content of phenolic compounds. Compared to elderberries grown in Oregon, fruits from Missouri had higher total anthocyanin and phenolic content. In contrast, Oregon elderberry’s soluble solids concentration and acidity were higher. The elderberry fruit features are highly susceptible to environmental and genetic influences, albeit evident and consistent patterns were difficult to discern based on a study conducted by Thomas et al. as stated in the Journal Of Berry Research.

In addition, their usage and benefits differ significantly as well. As stated in the Journal Of Food Science by Mikulic-Petkovsek et al., fruits of Sambucus ebulus are high in HCAs (Hydroxycinnamic acids), catechin, epicatechin, and flavonols. Together with Sambucus nigra, they are ideally suited for producing natural products high in nutrients and phenolic components and used as nutritious food supplements for a healthy diet. Sambucus ebulus fruits, on the other hand, are rarely utilized due to their revolting flavor.

Elderberries are low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals, regardless of their medicinal benefits. In addition, the fruits of Sambucus cerulea are reportedly far tastier than their Canadensis cousins. While you shouldn’t eat elderberries in excess, they can be a nutritious addition to a balanced diet since they contain chemical compounds beneficial for health. The same is true for other types and varieties of elderberry.

Elderberry leaves, twigs, branches, seeds, and roots contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside, which North American indigenous tribes use in their treatments. According to tests conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri’s Elderberry Improvement Project, Canadensis plants had far lower levels of cyanogenic glycosides, the substances in elderberries that cause gastrointestinal problems in certain people. The International Society for Horticultural Science reports that Sambucus nigra is the oldest historically documented elderberry. According to archaeologists, elderberries have been associated with human activity since the Stone and Bronze Ages. The most popular elderberry variety is American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). It’s also known as ‘Adams’ and is the most common type of elderberry in North America.

Every elderberry plant is different, whether you want to cultivate them for hedges, butterfly habitats, or food and medicinal applications. To help with this, here are some of the most common types and varieties of elderberry.

  1. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
  2. Red Elderberry
  3. Sambucus Ebulus
  4. Sambucus Canadensis
  5. Sambucus Sieboldiana
  6. Sambucus Chinensis
  7. North China Red Elder
  8. Black Lace Elderberry
  9. Blue Elderberry
  10. Bob Gordon Elderberry
  11. Johns Elderberry
  12. Lemon Lace Elderberry
  13. Nova Elderberry
  14. Ranch Elderberry
  15. Scotia Elderberry
  16. Variegated Elderberry
  17. Wyldewood Elderberry
  18. York Elderberry
  19. Black Beauty Elderberry

The following section will examine these elderberry varieties in greater detail to help you learn more about them.


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1. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), also known as Black elderberry or European elderberry, is a fruit-bearing shrub belonging to the Adoxaceae family. Sambucus nigra has been employed in various scientific investigations looking into the health advantages of elderberries. This plant can grow 10 meters and produce clusters of cream-colored flowers followed by dark berries. 

According to the American Botanical Council, elderberry originated in Europe, northern Africa, and Asia’s western and central parts and has a long history of use among European herbalists. The father of medicine, Hippocrates, referred to elderberry as a medicine chest because of its healing properties. This fruit-bearing shrub is also known for various folklore, including the legend that they are inhabited by Hyldemoer, a goddess or nymph associated with vegetation, life, and death, as per the Herb Society of America. 

The Latin name Sambucus comes from the Greek word sambuca, an ancient string instrument popular among the Romans, while nigra means black. Essentially, this is how ripe elderberries appear as they turn almost black.

Sambucus nigra’s high anthocyanin content, and other polyphenols and vitamins, can be employed in the food sector as a colorant and antioxidant. Furthermore, these bioactive components produce functional foods with potent antioxidant activity. Elderberries can also be eaten in pies and jams or taken as a tonic drink. 

Elderberries are suitable for treating various health conditions, such as lowering blood pressure and alleviating upper respiratory symptoms. They could be a safer alternative to prescription drugs used to treat the common cold and influenza, according to Hawkins et al. as per the Complementary Therapies In Medicine journal. This can be attributed to the fact that elderberries are abundant in nutrients.

In accordance with Food Data Central, a cup of raw elderberries contains 106 calories. It is also packed with significant amounts of minerals and vitamins, including 2.32 mg of iron, 406 mg of potassium, 7.25 mg of magnesium, 52.2 mg of vitamin C, 0.725 mg of niacin, and 8.7 mcg of folate. 

Because of its nutritional content and health benefits, elderberries are consumed in various forms, including supplements. Zand Immunity, Nature’s Way, Integrative Therapeutics, and Now are some reputable companies that provide high-quality elderberry supplements. Generally, supplements should be consumed as per the dosage recommendations given by the product manufacturer. It is also advised to consult an expert regarding the appropriate dosage based on the benefit you wish to gain.


2. Red Elderberry

The red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), also known as a red-berried elder, European red elder, or scarlet elderberry, is a deciduous branching shrub that produces tiny white blooms. The berries appear in late spring, peak in mid-summer, and last into late summer, especially in inland areas. When mature, the berries grow in cone-shaped stem groups that break off at the base, allowing the entire cluster to be collected at once. It is a relatively hardy plant capable of growing 8-12 feet. Red elderberries grow wild in North America and Europe and prefer deep, loamy sand and fertile soils with adequate moisture. Sambucus racemosa is a somewhat toxic but widely used food that requires processing to make it edible. Racemosa is a Latin word that translates as clusters of flowers.

North American indigenous tribes in the broader Northwest employed red elderberry throughout much of the Holocene. Despite its toxicity, most tribes on the southern Northwest Coast ate the red elderberry fruit during the ethnographic period. Toxins in red elderberries must be processed thoroughly before consumption. Based on a study by Losey et al., a 100-g serving of red elderberries contained 103 kilocalories, 81 mg of vitamin C, 0.8 mg of copper, 1.1 mg of iron, 84 mg of phosphorus, 98 mg of calcium, 1.1 g of protein, 14.6 g of carbohydrates, 5.6 g of fat, and 1.3 mg of sodium.

Only a few researchers have looked into the medicinal potential of red-berried elder, compared to hundreds of studies investigating Sambucus nigra. Red elderberry was the most effective plant extract for inhibiting HIV in an experiment by Mlinaric et al. as published in Die Pharmazie journal. In another study by McCutcheon et al. in the Journal Of Ethnopharmacology, a Sambucus racemosa branch tip extract was particularly effective against the respiratory syncytial virus.

In the Food Plants of the North American Indians journal, Yanovsky et al. claimed that red elderberries were used as tea. Meanwhile, its roots and rhizomes were utilized in stabilizing soils and controlling erosion on moist sites. Red elderberries can also be cultivated as ornamental plants for traditional, wildlife, and natural landscape projects.


3. Sambucus Ebulus

Sambucus ebulus is commonly referred to as dwarf elder, dwarf elderberry, Danes blood, and Dane weed. This perennial plant with a long underground rhizome has unbranched stems that grow close to one another. It has white or pink flat-topped flowers and produces berries that are dark blue to violet in color. The Latin word ebulus means dwarf elder.

Sambucus ebulus originated in Africa, Europe, and the temperate regions of Asia. Dwarf elder has long been used in traditional medicine for its healing properties. For example, decoctions of the leaves were used to treat snake bites by applying them twice daily for ten days. At the same time, the flowers can be brewed into a tea to help relieve coughs. 

In a study by Tasinov et al., Sambucus ebulus is an abundant source of phytochemical compounds such as flavones. Phytochemical compounds are bioactive plant chemicals found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods that help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

The methanolic extract from the leaves of Sambucus ebulus showed remarkable wound healing properties, based on a study by Süntar et al. in the Journal Of Ethnopharmacology. Dwarf elderberry is now widely available in various forms, such as dietary supplements and fruit extracts for pharmaceutical preparations to treat various skin diseases.

In addition to being a remedy for specific ailments, Sambucus ebulus is effective for dyeing silk fabrics. The root extracts have been employed as a hair dye. The leaves can repel pests such as mice and moles. Different components of the plant may be hazardous if taken in excess due to the presence of ebulins. Anti-ribosomal lectin, for example, is a dangerous component that induces poisoning in the lungs and intestines of mice, as reported by Garrosa et al. in the Toxins journal.


4. Sambucus Canadensis 

Sambucus canadensis is a native cultivar that goes by ‘Adams’ and is also known as American elder or American elderberry. It is a multi-stemmed shrub with compound leaves, white blossoms, and drupes that vary from purple to black. The drupe is a fruit that can be used in pies, pancakes, and jellies when cooked. The blossoms and fruits are used to make wine. The fruits are also enjoyed by wildlife, and the arching branches provide nesting space for birds. This plant can reach 4 meters and has been extensively cultivated for its fruits and as an ornamental. 

American elderberry is indigenous to North America and Canada. Canadensis is a Latin name for Canada and a taxonomic term for species local to the country. Traditionally, its leaves and flowers were used to treat fever, cough, asthma, and the common cold. 

Canadensis has been proposed as a natural food color because it is more stable to light and heat than Sambucus nigra. The difference in light and heat stability between Sambucus canadensis and nigra is thought to be due to the structures of the main anthocyanins, according to a study by Nakatani et al. as stated in the Phytochemistry journal. Various anthocyanin-rich sources have been researched as possibilities for commercial pigment extracts. Since their use is currently limited to acidic mediums, continuing research into the biochemistry of anthocyanins may contribute to their use and stability in a broader range of food products. You can find American elderberries in desserts, jellies, brandies, and wines. In addition, its twigs and fruits are used to dye baskets.


5. Sambucus Sieboldiana

Sambucus sieboldiana, also called the Japanese red elder, is an herbaceous shrub with green pinnate leaves and white blossoms. It grows up to 4 meters and bears red fruits. The Japanese red elder is native to Eastern Asia, particularly Japan and Korea, and its natural habitat includes low-elevation thickets and forest edges. The specific epithet sieboldiana comes from the German physician and botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold. The leaves and stems of some genus members are poisonous, despite the lack of particular mention for this species.

An in vivo study by Li et al. showed that, when compared to other fractions, EtOAc Fr. (ethyl acetate fraction) of the methanolic extract from the stems of Sambucus sieboldiana was more potent in inhibiting PTH (parathyroid hormone)-simulated bone reception of neonatal mouse bones. In addition, the EtOAc Fr. decreased the serum calcium level in low calcium dietary rats. Therefore, the EtOAc Fr. of Sambucus sieboldiana exhibited a suppressive effect on bone resorption. Hence, the Japanese red elder herb shows potential for use as a natural crude drug that can inhibit bone resorption due to excess levels of PTH. A high PTH level can cause calcium levels in the blood to rise too high, leading to health issues such as bone thinning and kidney disease.


6. Sambucus Chinensis

Sambucus chinensis, also known as Chinese elder, is a perennial plant with dark green leaves, white flowers, and red-orange berries. Chinensis is a native of East Asia, with populations in Japan and Korea, and grows up to 5 feet. The specific epithet refers to Chinese.

Liao et al. isolated a compound called ursolic acid from Sambucus chinensis through various chromatographic methods. Oncologists are interested in ursolic acid because of its cytotoxicity, differentiation induction, antimutagenic, antiviral, and anti-invasive properties. Ursolic acid’s effects on normal cells and tissues have been found to be occasionally pro-inflammatory in some investigations. As a result, further research on the effects of ursolic acid on target cells or tissues’ biological conditions is needed based on a study by Murakami et al. in the Molecular Nutrition & Food Research journal. Chinensis thrives at USDA Growing Zones 7-10.


7. North China Red Elder

The North China red elder or Sambucus williamsii is a shrub with cream flowers, red pinnate leaves, and drupes. Sambucus williamsii is a deciduous shrub native to China and grows 5-6 meters. It has long been used in Chinese medicine to alleviate bone and joint problems, kidney diseases, inflammation-related gastrointestinal disorders, and wounds. The most important phytochemicals in Sambucus williamsii are terpenoids, lignans, phenolic acids, and trace amounts of minerals, essential oils, amino acids, and natural colors. It is usually found on mountain slopes, brush, stream banks, and roadsides and has excellent environmental tolerance. 

Biological screening models have been used to explore the stem bark, root bark, fruit oil, and leaves of Sambucus williamsii. The root bark has fracture-healing properties similar to the stem, but other parts have antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antiaging characteristics. According to a review by Xiao et al., as stated in The Journal of Chinese Medicine, the essential effects of Sambucus williamsii identified to date are its benefits for osteoporosis, bone fractures, and other bone-related diseases. Williamsii thrives at USDA Growing Zone 6.


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8. Black Lace Elderberry

Black Lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace®’) is a European variety with finely cut, intense purple foliage and pink blooms, giving it a Japanese maple-like appearance. It produces black berries that can be harvested to make elderberry wine and jam and grows up to 8 feet. Black Lace elderberry can be used as an accent plant, mass-planted for a low-maintenance towering hedge, or included in a mixed or perennial border. Black Lace elderberry grows best in cool climates, while it may produce green foliage in hot climates. Black Lace thrives at USDA Growing Zones 4-7.


9. Blue Elderberry

Blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana), also referred to as blue elder, Mexican elderberry, or Tapiro, is a medium-sized green shrub that produces creamy white flowers in the spring and dark blue berries in the summer. It is found in canyons and valleys west of the Sierra Nevada, from Oregon to Baja, and east to west Texas. It grows up to 25 feet, but pruning keeps the tree attractive. Its bluish-black berries are good in jellies, jams, juices, and wines, while the leaves, stems, and bark are poisonous. Blue thrives at USDA Growing Zones 3-10.


10. Bob Gordon Elderberry

Robert Gordon, Charlotte Cooper, and Andrew Thomas discovered the Bob Gordon Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Bob Gordon’) in the wild near Osceola, Missouri, on September 29, 1999. The berries are dark purple, uniformly ripen in the cymes, and are shatter-resistant. Florets are easily removed from the cyme for use as a dried product or flavoring. Bob Gordon Elderberries are sweeter and larger than other cultivars and packed with antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients. Bob Gordon thrives at USDA Growing Zones 3-9.


11. Johns Elderberry

Johns Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Johns’) is a perennial shrub with extending and arching branches. Its white flowers appear in early summer, followed by bunches of purple and black fruits in August and September. Johns is a selection of the native Ohio species and produces abundant clusters of edible fruit. It is suitable for wines, jellies, and attracting birds and is a good native plant for naturalizing. Johns thrives at USDA Growing Zones 3-9.


12. Lemon Lace Elderberry

Lemon Lace elderberry (Sambucus racemosa ‘Lemony Lace®’) or Lemony Lace is a garden favorite with lemon-lime and green foliage. It can reach heights and spreads of 3-5 feet when grown to maturity. Before the foliage emerges, this North American native produces large clusters of white flowers in early spring, and then vivid yellow leaves with crimson edges take over. The foliage acquires a lovely chartreuse color as it ages. Even though it is a huge plant, it can be trimmed and kept at a manageable size. Lemon Lace elderberry received a People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Farwest Horticulture Trade Show and a Green Thumb Award from the Direct Gardening Association. Lemony Lace thrives at USDA Growing Zones 3-7.


13. Nova Elderberry

Nova elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Nova’) is an early-ripening, self-fertile American elder variety developed at a germplasm center in Kentville, Nova Scotia, in 1960. It is an excellent choice for small or urban gardens because it’s shorter than many Canadensis cultivars. In the spring, large clusters of creamy white flowers develop. The blossoms grow into large bunches of soft, rich purple berries utilized in jams, jellies, pies, and wines. Nova thrives in USDA Growing Zones 3-9.


14. Ranch Elderberry

Ranch elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Ranch’) is the smallest elderberry variety with short stature of only 5-6 feet tall, allowing for easy berry harvesting. It was hand-picked from the wild in the Midwest, where it is now commercially farmed. It’s drought-tolerant and a compact, productive plant, ideal for tiny or urban gardens. Ranch thrives in USDA Growing Zones 3-8.


15. Scotia Elderberry

Scotia elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Scotia’) is a variety recognized for having the smallest but tastiest berries. Scotia was developed in the AAFC Research and Development Centre in Kentville, Nova Scotia. It was bred from another variety, Adams 2, and released by the station in 1960 along with Nova. Scotia elderberry is grown commercially in Canada. The berries can be eaten raw or used in various ways, such as preparing juice, wine, baking products, and tinctures. Scotia thrives in USDA Growing Zones 3-9.


16. Variegated Elderberry

Variegated elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Variegata’) is a medium-sized shrub with green foliage and large clusters of fragrant white flowers. This cascading shrub grows up to 12 feet tall and can be used as an ornamental addition to your home and garden. Its dark purple berries are edible and can be used for cooking and winemaking. Variegated thrives in USDA Growing Zones 4-9.


17. Wyldewood Elderberry

Wyldewood elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Wlydewood’) is a tall, vigorous plant that produces high yields of small dark purple berries for various culinary applications. It has large flower heads that can reach up to 12 inches across. Increased demand and developing markets have prompted the development of better elderberry cultivars that produce consistently high yields. The Elderberry Improvement Project began in 1997 at Missouri State University and the University of Missouri to generate Midwestern-adapted American elderberry cultivars. Wyldewood, the program’s first cultivar, is easy to harvest and bears fruit with well-suited qualities for processing. Wyldewood thrives in USDA Growing Zones 4-8.


18. York Elderberry

York elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘York’) is the largest variety of American elderberry known for its abundant purple-black berries. In early June, it grows broad clusters of lemon-scented, white blossoms and distinctively elegant pinnate, finely serrated leaves. The flower clusters cover the plant at regular intervals. This variety is suitable for pie, juice, jelly, and wine. York thrives in USDA Growing Zones 3-9.


19. Black Beauty Elderberry

Black Beauty elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty®’) is a new cultivar of the common European elder with stems and leaves that are dark purple to almost black. Its big pinkish flowers have a sweet anise scent and bloom in early summer, while the dark berries appear later in the season. Black Beauty is a winner of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in London. It is not to be confused with the related cultivar Black Lace, which has a more delicate texture and the purple hue of Black Beauty. Unlike Black Beauty, which has sharply oval-shaped, compound, and faintly serrated leaves, Black Lace’s foliage is multi-lobed and finely cut, giving it a lace-like texture when viewed from afar. The fruits can be used in jams, jellies, and elderberry wines. Still, they are not as tasty as those of the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). This adaptable shrub can be used for mixed borders, hedges, or screens. Black Beauty thrives in USDA Growing Zones 4-7.


Which Elderberry Varieties Can Be Grown In Your Backyard?

When choosing which type of elderberry to grow in your backyard, you should consider your growing zone and available space, followed by the attributes desired from the plants. These fruit-bearing shrubs can be incorporated into landscapes or gardens without difficulty. Here are some elderberry varieties that can be grown in your backyard:

  • Adams Elderberry: Adams can be grown in the backyard for its distinctive white blooms and big bunches of dark purple fruits, making it a beautiful feature.
  • Black Beauty Elderberry: The Black Beauty variety is selected for its ornamental value due to its purple foliage and pink, lemon-scented blossoms. Unlike other types, they respond well to pruning.
  • Black Lace Elderberry: The Black Lace cultivar produces deeply serrated, purple foliage. These shrubs reach up to 8 feet, have pink flowers, and are easy to prune to the appropriate height for your landscape. 
  • Blue Elderberry: Blue can sometimes be confused for a blueberry because of its big, powder-blue berries. The fruits have a rich taste and grow best from seeds instead of cuttings. 
  • Red Elderberry: Red elderberry has distinctive cherry-red fruits in the fall. Its light green, feathery foliage adds a lovely touch to any yard. Birds, butterflies, and pollinators are attracted to its enormous, colorful blossoms.
  • Johns Elderberry: Johns is low-maintenance and doesn’t require much spraying. The green foliage has a sheen that makes it attractive. Giant clusters of white flowers appear all over the shrub in the spring.
  • Lemon Lace Elderberry: Lemon Lace is a very hardy and showy plant with feathery, light-colored leaves. It yields red fruits in the fall after the white flower clusters have died away. Lemon Lace is a hardy ornamental plant that can withstand deer, cold, and wind.
  • Nova Elderberry: In the spring, Nova is filled with beautiful white flowers, and by August, the flowers are replaced by sweet berries. The flowers can be dipped in batter and turned into fritters. 
  • Ranch Elderberry: A vigorous, heavy yielding elderberry variety, Ranch grows well in various conditions, including poor, non-fertile soils. It’s the quickest to produce robust, erect stems from cuttings, and the bushes establish quickly.
  • Variegated Elderberry: The Variegated elderberry is grown for its striking green and white foliage and fragrant white flowers. This ornamental addition to your home and garden can also bring visual interest to hedgerows and block unsightly views.
  • York Elderberry: York is cold-tolerant, making it a perfect choice for USDA Growing Zones 3-9. Many growers use it as a natural fencing solution since the bushes can grow up to 12 feet tall. The fall brings about a vibrant foliage color change.

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What Are The Mutual And Main Benefits Of The Elderberry Types?

While each variety of elderberry has unique properties, they generally share mutual and main benefits: medicinal, nutritional, culinary, ornamental, and wildlife value.

  1. Medicinal benefits: Elderberries are high in flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, which are responsible for many of the fruits’ health advantages. According to RxList, elderberry is used to help treat hay fever (allergic rhinitis), cancer, constipation, and increased urine flow. The fruits and other parts remedy heart disease, excessive cholesterol, headaches, and toothaches and support weight reduction. According to some experts, elderberry may also help prevent and relieve cold and flu symptoms. 
  2. Nutritional benefits: Elderberries are a low-calorie fruit high in vitamins and minerals. It carries a little more than 100 calories per cup, with 27 g of carbohydrates, 1 g of fat, and 1 g of protein. Aside from antioxidants, it has 10 g of dietary fiber and 52 mg of vitamin C, which is 87% of the daily vitamin C requirement.
  3. Culinary benefits: Elderberries are used in pies, jams, and juices and fermented to make wine. Pancakes, muffins, and chutneys can all benefit from dried elderberries. In addition, the berries yield a magenta colorant that is used to color foods and beverages.
  4. Ornamental benefits: There are various elderberry varieties with green, near-black, or yellow foliage and white, pink, or gold flowers. All of these can be lovely additions to the garden. 
  5. Wildlife value: Elderberry shrubs are commonly planted in residential landscapes to provide animal habitats for birds and butterflies. Many animals consume the fruit, including Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Cedar Waxwings, and Mockingbirds. Box turtles have also been known to eat elderberries. Many insects, notably the larvae of the giant Cecropia Moth, North America’s largest moth, consume this plant. Deer also eat the leaves, twigs, and fruit.



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