Sambucus racemosa (Red-berried Elder)

Plant Info
Also known as: Red Elderberry
Family:Adoxaceae (Moschatel)
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers with recurved petals] 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: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] 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.

[photo of twig and buds] 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.

[photo of bark] 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.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a bright red berry ¼ inch or less diameter, containing 3 to 5 stone-like seeds.


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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More photos

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?

Posted by: Kirk - Quarry Hill Park, Rochester, Olmsted County
on: 2015-05-16 13:34:57

This plant is common here in Quarry Hill Park on the east edge of Rochester.

Posted by: Jeff - Fairmont, Martin County
on: 2015-06-01 18:55:39

Growing in my yard, planted by birds.

Posted by: Linda - Lebanon Hills Park in Eagan
on: 2016-05-28 00:16:35

Red-berried Elder is very common in Lebanon Hills Park (while Common Elderberry is much less so). One easy spot to see 6 or more is on the short unpaved path between the parking lot and storage building by Schulze Lake swimming beach.

Posted by: Candace - Carlton
on: 2016-07-02 11:44:30

This bush takes over my pasture. The birds love the berries but I'm trying to build an orchard. Any suggestions on how to keep them managed??

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