Northern Ontario Plant Database
Sambucus racemosa L.
En: red elderberry, red-berried elder, scarlet elderberry
Adoxaceae (Viburnum Family)
General: A tall, deciduous shrub, to 4 m tall. Bark grayish-brown, with large warty lenticels; young twigs stout, downy, becoming smooth with age (glabrate); pith large, reddish brown. Flowers and leaves with a strong unpleasant odour, especially when bruised.
Leaves: Opposite, pinnately compound, with 5–7 (usually 5) leaflets, petiolate. Lateral leaflets short-stalked, terminal leaflet with a longer stalk. Leaflet blades lanceolate-ovate to oblanceolate, 5–13 cm long, 2.5–5.5 cm wide; dark green above and paler beneath, smooth (glabrous) on both surfaces or downy beneath; bases tapering (cuneate) to rounded, lateral leaflets with oblique bases – the blade longer on the lower side of the midrib; apex long-pointed (acuminate); margins toothed (serrate).
Flowers: Bisexual, white to pinkish, small and numerous in a terminal, elongate, rounded to pyramid-shaped cluster (compound cyme), 5–13 cm long, stalked, with purplish flower stalks (pedicels). Calyx minute; corolla with 5 rounded lobes; stamens 5; the single pistil with an inferior ovary. Flowers bloom in late spring to early summer.
Fruit: Small, iridescent red, berry-like drupes (rarely yellow or white), 4–6 mm long; inedible and possibly toxic to some when raw, edible when cooked. Fruits mature in late summer.
Habitat and Range: Roadsides, shores, borders of woods, clearings, and fence rows. The red elderberry is native to north temperate and boreal North America. In Ontario, it extends north to about 50° N, and farther north along the Moose River (Soper & Heimburger 1982).
Similar Species: Sambucus canadensis, common or American elderberry, is similar to red elderberry, but the common elderberry can be easily distinguished by its flat-topped inflorescence, edible purple-black fruits, more numerous leaflets (5–11), and white-pithed stems. Its flowers bloom 5–6 weeks later than those of the red elderberry. See the Sambucus canadensis webpage from the Wildflowers of Illinois website.Back to species list