red elderberry

(Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa)

Conservation Status
red elderberry
  IUCN Red List

not listed


NNR - Unranked

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Red elderberry is a fast growing shrub rising on multiple stems from shallow roots and rhizomes.

The stems are erect or arching, branching, hairless, up to 13 tall, and up to 4¾ in diameter at breast height. They are dotted with conspicuous, large, raised, warty bumps (lenticels).

The bark on first year stems is gray and smooth. Bark on older stems is gray to reddish-brown and rough with thin, narrow, plate-like scales.

The twigs are stout. The area of cells in the center of the stem (pith) is large, encompassing more than half of the diameter of the twig. First-year twigs greenish-brown and covered with short, soft hairs. Second-year twigs are grayish to brownish and hairless. The pith is white in first-year twigs, tan or orangish-brown in second-year twigs. There are no terminal buds.

The leaves are opposite, deciduous, and pinnately divided into usually 5, occasionally 7, leaflets. They are attached to the twig on a 1¼ to 2¾ long leaf stalk. The leaf stalk is hairy on all surfaces.

The leaflets are lance-shaped to egg-shaped or elliptic, 2 to 4¾ long, and ¾ to 2 wide. They are attached to the central leaf stalk (rachis) on to long stalks. They are rounded or tapered and asymmetrical at the base and taper to a point at the tip with concave sides along the tip. The terminal leaflet is often somewhat smaller than the lateral leaflets. The upper surface of the leaflet is dark green, and sparsely hairy, at least along the midvein. The lower surface is pale green and hairy along the veins. The margins have fine, sharp, forward-pointing teeth.

The inflorescence is a branched, 1¼ to 3 wide cluster (cyme) at the ends of the stems and branches. The cymes are pyramid-shaped or egg-shaped. They rise on erect, ¾ to 3½ long stalks. Each cyme has 100 to 200 small flowers.

The flowers are to ¼ wide. There are 5 yellowish-white petals and 5 stamens with white filaments and yellow anthers. They appear in late April to early June.

The fruit is a juicy, globular berry, to ¼ in diameter, containing 3 to 5 seeds. It ripens in mid-June to late July, turning bright red.




5 to 13


Flower Color




Similar Species


Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) has undivided (simple), hairless leaves. The inflorescence is dome-shaped.

American elderberry (Sambucus nigra var. canadensis) second year twigs have white pith. The leaves usually have 7 leaflets, occasionally 5 or 9. The leaf stalk upper surface channel is hairy but the leaf stalk is otherwise hairless. The leaflets are symmetrical at the base and are less coarsely toothed. The inflorescence is larger and flat-topped. It blooms from early July to mid-August. Mature berries are dark, blackish-purple.


Moist to moderate moisture. Deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests, swamps, marsh edges, stream banks, lake shores. Full sun to full shade.




Late April to early June


Pests and Diseases






The fruit is safe to eat when cooked. The raw fruit, the seeds, and all other parts of the plant are poisonous, and can be lethal at high doses.




Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 24, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Dipsacales (honeysuckles, moschatels, and allies)  


Viburnaceae (elder)  


Sambucus (elderberry)  

Some authors treat this as a Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis, a subspecies of black elderberry.

There is some disagreement about the correct placement of the genera Sambucus and Viburnum. They were formerly included in the family Caprifoliaceae. In 2003, the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group proposed moving them to the Adoxacea family (APG II), but the Nomenclature Committee for Vascular Plants approved the conservation of Viburnaceae. In 2016, Angiosperm Phylogeny Group proposed to “super-conserve” Adoxacea (APG IV), but the General Committee for Botanical Nomenclature rejected the proposal.

Currently (2023), some sources, including USDA PLANTS and NatureServe, place the genera Sambucus and Viburnum in the Caprifoliaceae family. Some sources, including ITIS and NCBI, place them in the Adoxacea family. Almost all other sources, including APG IV, World Flora Online, Plants of the World Online, GRIN, GBIF, and iNaturalist, place the two genera in the Viburnaceae family.


Subordinate Taxa






Sambucus callicarpa

Sambucus microbotrys

Sambucus pubens

Sambucus pubens var. arborescens

Sambucus racemosa var. arborescens

Sambucus racemosa var. leucocarpa

Sambucus racemosa var. microbotrys

Sambucus racemosa var. pubens

Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens


Common Names


bunchberry elderberry

red elderberry

red-berried elder













A branched, flat-topped or convex flower cluster in which the terminal flower opens first and the outermost flowers open last.



A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.



On a compound leaf, having the leaflets arranged on opposite sides of a common stalk. On a bryophyte, having branches evenly arranged on opposite sides of a stem.



The spongy cells in the center of the stem.



The main axis of a compound leaf, appearing as an extension of the leaf stalk; the main axis of an inflorescence.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.

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Cindy C

    red elderberry   red elderberry  
    red elderberry      


    red elderberry   red elderberry  
    red elderberry      


    red elderberry      


    red elderberry   red elderberry  

Leaves – 5 Leaflets

    red elderberry      

Leaves – 7 Leaflets

    red elderberry   red elderberry  
    red elderberry   red elderberry  


    red elderberry   red elderberry  
    red elderberry      

Bud in Early Spring

    red elderberry   red elderberry  
    red elderberry   red elderberry  



  Sambucus racemosa
Susanne Wiik
  Sambucus racemosa  

Rødhyll, red elderberry

  Red-berried Elder (Sambuscus racemosa)
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Red-berried Elder (Sambuscus racemosa)  



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Other Videos
  Red Elderberry - Wild Edible Plant Series
Alex Ansary

Published on Feb 27, 2014

In our world, having the knowledge of what wild edible plants in your area are safe to forage for either medicinal, edible or use is very valuable. Whether your motivation is preparedness, getting closer to nature, health and wellness, or botany, there is something for you in this video series.

John Gallagher talks you on a walking tour of wild edible and medicinal plants of the pacific northwest. This video series was filmed and edited by Alex Ansary in 2008 and shot in Duvall, Washington. John is a instructor at the Wilderness Awareness School. More videos from this school and on the topic of edible plants are coming to this channel. Please subscribe today.

John's website is: http://www.LearningHerbs.Com.

  Red Elderberry

Uploaded on Jul 12, 2011

Red Elderberry, very pretty and not at all edible.

  sambucus racemosa
wander van laar

Published on Jun 22, 2014

No description available.




Visitor Sightings

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  Cindy C

Location: Zimmerman, MN (Sherburne County)

red elderberry  

Afton State Park

Baker Park Reserve

Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park

Big Woods Heritage Forest WMA

Blue Devil Valley SNA

Bur Oak WMA

Cannon River Wilderness Area

Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center

Cedar Mountain SNA

Charles A. Lindbergh State Park

Cherry Grove Blind Valley SNA

Chimney Rock SNA

Clifton E. French Regional Park

Crystal Spring SNA

Falls Creek SNA

Flandrau State Park

Franconia Bluffs SNA

Frontenac State Park

Glacial Lakes State Park

Hampton Woods WMA

Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Iron Springs Bog SNA

Itasca State Park

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Jay Cooke State Park

John Murtaugh Memorial WMA

Keller Regional Park

Lake Byllesby Regional Park

Lake Louise State Park

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Lawrence Creek SNA

Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Lester Lake SNA

Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area, Lawrence Unit

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo

Prairie Creek Woods SNA

Rice Lake State Park

Ritter Farm Park

River Warren Outcrops SNA

Robert Ney Memorial Park Reserve

Rockville County Park

Sakatah Lake State Park

Savage Fen SNA

Savanna Portage State Park

Scenic State Park

Seminary Fen SNA

Seven Mile Creek County Park

Seven Springs WMA

Sibley State Park

Spring Beauty Northern Hardwoods SNA

Spring Lake Park Reserve

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Stanley Eddy Memorial Park Reserve

Sunfish Lake Park

Swedes Forest SNA

Tamarack Nature Center

Thompson County Park

Townsend Woods SNA

Twin Lakes SNA

Vermillion Highlands Research Recreation and WMA

Westwood Hills Nature Center

Whitetail Woods Regional Park

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Woodland Trails Regional Park







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