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Bransford, W.D. and Dolphia
Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa L.
Red elderberry, Scarlet elder, Red-berried elder
Synonyms: Sambucus pubens, Sambucus callicarpa
USDA Symbol: sarar3
USDA Native Status: Native to U.S.
A globular shrub, 10-20 ft. tall, with tightly clustered basal stems. Upright branches become arching with age. Pinnately compound leaves. Small white flowers in conical spikes are followed by clusters of pea-sized, red berries.
The red fruit, inedible when raw and with a disagreeably bitter taste, can be made into wine and is also eaten by birds and mammals. There is much disagreement in the literature over the classification of Sambucus species. Several former species are now considered part of the subspecies Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa, including S. callicarpa and S. pubens.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Shrub Leaf:
Green Autumn Foliage:
Red Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White
Bloom Time: May , Jun
AK , AZ , CA , CO , CT , GA , IA , ID , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MT , NC , ND , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OR , PA , RI , SD , TN , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY Canada: NB
, QC Native Distribution:
Nf. to MN, Alt. & e. B.C., s. to PA, mts. to GA, n. IN, n.e. IA, the Black Hills & CO Native Habitat:
Rich or rocky woods; slopes; moist cliffs & ravines USDA Native Status: L48(N), AK(N), CAN(N)
Growing ConditionsWater Use:
High Light Requirement:
Shade Soil Moisture:
Moist Soil pH:
Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2) CaCO3 Tolerance:
Medium Soil Description:
Rocky soils. Conditions Comments:
One of the earliest native
shrubs in bloom. Fast-growing and short-lived.
Very high. Birds eat berries. Use Food:
Though many people think (incorrectly) that the fruit
is poisonous, it was eaten widely by British Columbia First Peoples. Clusters of berries were gathered in July and August. Berries were detached back at camp and cooked overnight in steaming pits or boiled in redcedar boxes. Berries were placed over fires on skunk cabbage leaves and dried into cakes for later use. To improve the flavour, red elderberries were mixed with other kinds of berries. Recently people mix the berries with sugar and make wine jelly or jam. Use Other:
Note that roots, stems, bark,
leaves, flowers and unripe fruit
contain poisonous alkaloids and other substances that may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Medicinal tea from the plant may cause poisoning. Children have been poisoned when they used the hollowed out stems for peashooters. Warning:
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts. Low toxicity if eaten, not edible. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, coma. Toxic Principle: Cyanogenic glycoside and alkaloid. Conspicuous Flowers:
PropagationDescription: Easily started from cuttings. May also be propagated by treated seed.
Seed Collection: Collect fruits by stripping or cutting from the branches. Fruits may be dried or macerated and the seeds extracted.
Seed Treatment: Seed must be cold-moist stratified for two months. This treatment may be preceded by a 10-15 minute soak in H2SO4.
Commercially Avail: yes
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Record Modified: 2011-02-11
Research By: TWC Staff