A genus of about 25 species and a number of cultivars. There are a few perennials, some of which are grown in gardens, but it is mainly the trees and shrubs that are of interest to most gardeners. The flowers are far from insignificant since they are carried in flat heads, sometimes up to 30cm (12in) across. They are generally white but some are tinged with pink. However it is mainly for the foliage that the elders are grown. In some cases it is for the shape, in others the colour.
The shapes include very cut, almost filigree leaves. The colours range from varying greens to gold, bronze and purple. The gold varieties are best kept out of the sun or they scorch, on the other hand the purples need to be in the sun or they revert to green. The big disadvantage for some people is the smell of the foliage when it is crushed. It can be a bit pungent. In late summer elders produce attractive sprays of black berries. These are much loved by birds. They can also be cooked and eaten in jams or drunk in wine. However these and other parts of the plant may cause stomach upsets if eaten when raw. Grow in any fertile, well-drained soil.