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I am not a native English speaker and while reading the Harry Potter books, I wasn't aware that "elder" is a plant. So I automatically assumed the elder wand was called "elder" on account of age (which generally implies power as well). Recently, I saw the movie (dubbed), and there it was translated to the term referring to the plant. So I learned that "elder" means both, and that got me thinking. Is there any canon (or otherwise) source on which meaning applies to the "elder wand?" Or is it ambiguous on purpose?

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I like this question :) – Slytherincess Mar 7 '14 at 12:47
I just want to add that most native-English speakers (myself included), who didn't spot the mention of the tree, would probably assume that it was referring to the age. – Moogle Mar 7 '14 at 13:53
@Moogle - Ack. One more non-native speaker who didn't know any better till reading this question – DVK-in-exile Mar 7 '14 at 14:45
Elder means not just age, but has the connotation of being authoritative. See the phrase "Respect your elders". – CreationEdge Jan 31 at 22:10
up vote 63 down vote accepted

It's unambiguously referring to the wood.

So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother.


“Nah, that story’s just one of those things you tell kids to teach them lessons, isn’t it? ‘Don’t go looking for trouble, don’t pick fights, don’t go messing around with stuff that’s best left alone! Just keep your head down, mind your own business, and you’ll be okay’ Come to think of it,” Ron added, “maybe that story’s why elder wands are supposed to be unlucky.”

“What are you talking about?”

“One of those superstitions, isn’t it? ‘May-born witches will marry Muggles.’ ‘Jinx by twilight, undone by midnight.’ ‘Wand of elder, never prosper.’ You must’ve heard them. My mum’s full of them.”

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Wow, OK. Had I read it again after having learned the meaning, I would have known. But of course, reading this originally and not knowing better, I must have applied the meaning "old" to the tree as well. – Angew Mar 7 '14 at 12:25
Perfect answer! +1 Godelot's Magick Moste Evil also notes "Ellhorn" as an alternate name for "Elder". As well, a wizard called Barnabas Deverill used a wand called "the Eldrun Wand" in the eighteenth century, which is believed to have been the Elder Wand. (Tales of Beedle the Bard) – Slytherincess Mar 7 '14 at 12:46
What's interesting is that Rowling chooses ambiguous names like this repeatedly: the one that sticks out the most to me is the meaning of "Prince" from The Half-Blood Prince. – Plutor Mar 7 '14 at 13:50
@Plutor What's the ambiguous nature of "Prince" from The Half-Blood Prince? I just looked it up in a dictionary to make sure I wasn't missing a definition and I don't see an unexpected entry... – Doc Mar 7 '14 at 14:14
@Doc Snape's mother was Eileen Prince, who Hermione actually (incorrectly, but she was pretty close) speculated may have been the Half-Blood Prince earlier in that book. – Anthony Grist Mar 7 '14 at 14:19

Elder refers to the tree or the wood, not the age i'll try and find a qoute and add it in an edit. it was along the lines of "So death took the wood of a nearby elder tree and shaped a wand"

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To add to the other answers here, Pottermore's wand quiz makes Elder wood the hardest type to get, with a 00.5% chance of getting it.

Elder wood is an extremely rare type of wand wood.

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