Sambucus racemosa (Red-berried Elder)
|Also known as:||Red Elderberry|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade; average to moist soil; woodlands, deciduous or mixed forest, along shores, wetland edges|
|Bloom season:||April - June|
|Plant height:||3 to 14 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Egg-shaped to pyramidal, branching cluster, 1 to 2 times as long as wide, at the tips of branches. Flowers are about ¼ inch across, white to creamy colored, with 5 petals that are widely spreading to tightly bent back (recurved). 5 creamy-tipped stamens surround a pale ovary with a short, 3 to 5 parted stigma at the top. Flower stalks are light green and sparsely to densely short-hairy.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are opposite, compound in groups of 5 or 7. Leaflets are generally lance-elliptic, 2 to 5 inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide, tapering to a pointed tip, finely serrated the edges, and short stalked to stalkless. The upper surface is hairless to sparsely hairy along the midvein, the lower is paler in color and variously hairy, especially along major veins. Leaf stalks are covered in short hairs.
Twigs are hairless, green with a creamy white pith and scattered lenticels (pores) the first year, the bark turning brownish gray the second year and the pith turning orange-brown. Buds are large and nearly round.
Older bark is brownish gray with shallow fissures, becoming rough with thin, plate-like scales. Stems are multiple from the base, can reach 4½ inches in diameter, are erect to arching, suckering and spreading by rhizomes.
Red-berried Elder is a ubiquitous shrub in Minnesota that may grow as tall as 14 feet, but half that is common. It is one of the first shrubs to bloom in spring and the early blossoms and bright red fruits make it pretty easy to identify. Unlike the related Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Red-berried Elder fruit is said to be inedible and even toxic. Common Elderberry is further distinguished by its large, flat flower clusters that bloom much later, and pith that remains white in 2-year-old branches. There are at least 2 subspecies native to North America, more if you count European introductions, but the taxonomy and distinguishing characteristics are not well documented. Be that as it may, subsp. pubens, formerly Sambucus pubens, is the species found in Minnesota.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Red-berried Elder plant
- Red-berried Elder plants
- fruiting Red-berried Elder
- a clump of stems
- 1-year-old twig and pith colors
- leaves and flower buds emerging in early spring
- more leaves
- flowers about to bloom
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?