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The Versatile Stem of the Elderberry

Making It Grow! Minute logo

  Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. When I took botany with the my Clemson professor the late Dr. John Fairey, one of the plants we studied was elderberry. Elderberry has an interesting feature – the stems are described as “weakly lignified.” What this means is that the outer portion of the stem is actually woody while the interior is filled with pith. Dr. Fairey told us that in the days before synthetic packing material, elderberry pith was used to pack delicate scientific instruments. I’ve also found references that watchmakers used elderberry pith to clean their tools. In the days before matches, fire starters used elderberry pith as tender. Across the world, people have cleared out the pitch to make strong tubes from elderberry stems. These have been turned into flutes, blow-guns, pea shooters for kids, pipes for smoking tobacco, and to serve as drains in collecting maple sap.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.