American Red Elderberry

Sambucus racemosa is a species of elderberry known by the common name Red Elderberry.

This often treelike shrub grows 2 to 6 meters 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 centimeters 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.

Distribution and habitat

It is native to Europe, temperate Asia, and north and central North America. It grows in riparian environments, woodlands, and other habitat, generally in moist areas.


Many parts of this plant are poisonous, and have been used as a traditional emetic. The fruits are reportedly safe to eat when cooked, and were savored by the Gitxsan in a variety of recipes.

The fruits are popular with birds, who distribute the seeds.


A number of cultivars have ornamental garden use. S. racemosa 'Sutherland Gold' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.


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