red elderberry

Sambucus racemosa
Moschatel family (Adoxaceae)

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Sambucus racemosa is a species of elderberry known by the common names red elderberry and red-berried elder.

Distribution and habitat

It is native to Europe, northern temperate Asia, and North America across Canada and the United States. It grows in riparian environments, woodlands, and other habitats, generally in moist areas.


Sambucus racemosa is often a treelike shrub growing 2–6 m (7–20 ft) tall. The stems are soft with a pithy center.

Each individual leaf is composed of 5 to 7 leaflike leaflets, each of which is up to 16 cm (6+14 in) long, lance-shaped to narrowly oval, and irregularly serrated along the edges. The leaflets have a strong disagreeable odor when crushed.

The inflorescence is a vaguely cone-shaped panicle of several cymes of flowers blooming from the ends of stem branches. The flower buds are pink when closed, and the open flowers are white, cream, or yellowish. Each flower has small, recurved petals and a star-shaped axis of five white stamens tipped in yellow anthers. The flowers are fragrant and visited by hummingbirds and butterflies.

The fruit is a bright red or sometimes purple drupe containing 3 to 5 seeds.

Varieties and subspecies

  • Sambucus racemosa subsp. kamtschatica — red elder, native to Northeastern Asia.
  • Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa — Rocky Mountain elder, native to the Western United States and Western Canada, including the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada.
  • Sambucus racemosa var. microbotrys (Rydb.) Kearney & Peebles – Southwestern United States
  • Sambucus racemosa subsp. pubens — American red elder, native to Eastern North America
  • Sambucus racemosa subsp. racemosa — European red elder.
  • Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa — Pacific red elderberry.
  • Sambucus racemosa subsp. sibirica — red elder, native to Siberia.
  • Sambucus racemosa subsp. sieboldiana — Japanese red elder


The stems, roots and foliage are poisonous, and the berries can be toxic or cause nausea if eaten raw.

Traditional medicine

It has been used as a traditional medicine by Native Americans, including the Bella Coola, Carrier, Gitksan, Hesquiaht, Menominee, Northern Paiute, Ojibwa, Paiute, Potawatomi, Tlingit, and Haida peoples. The uses included as an emetic, antidiarrheal, cold and cough remedy, dermatological and gynecological aid, and a homostasis.


The fruits are reportedly safe to eat when cooked, but are potentially poisonous when raw. They were cooked in a variety of recipes by indigenous peoples, including by the Apache, Bella Coola, Gitxsan, Gosiute, Makah, Ojibwa, Quileute, Skokomish, Yurok peoples.

The fruits are popular with birds, who also distribute the seeds. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.


Sambucus racemosa is cultivated as an ornamental plant, for use as a shrub or small tree in traditional and wildlife gardens, and natural landscape design projects.


Cultivars in the nursery trade include:

  • Sambucus racemosa 'Black Lace' — burgundy foliage
  • Sambucus racemosa 'Lemon Lace' — golden yellow and green foliage
  • Sambucus racemosa 'Lemony Lace' — golden green foliage, with red new growth
  • Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold' — green foliage, with bronze new growth: it has received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.



External links

  • Calflora
  • Jepson eFlora, The Jepson Herbarium, University of California, Berkeley
  • "Taxon Sambucus racemosa profile". Burke Museum. Herbarium. University of Washington.
  • Sambucus racemosa in the CalPhotos photo database, University of California, Berkeley



WWW info

Continu searching
Leaf size Leaf shape Leaf edge Twig Bark Height Seed Seed shell Flower Flower type Type
Leaf size  < 5 cm      Leaf shape  normal      Leaf edge  smooth  Twig  opposite   Bark  smooth Height  < 5 m Seed Seed shell  soft Flower Flower type  roset Type  Deciduous
< 5 cm normal smooth opposite smooth < 5 m soft roset Deciduous
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