Sambucus racemosa L. - Red Elderberry
By Steven D. Glenn
Not peer reviewed
Last Modified 01/25/2013
Common NamesRed Elderberry
Field IdentificationDeciduous upright shrub to 4 m with thick, spongy-filled stems and twigs and with opposite pinnately-compound leaves; clusters of small white flowers followed by clusters of small red to red-orange ovoid fruits.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for food purposes without first consulting a physician.
Moerman, 1998 Native Americans used the berries to make sauces, soups, preserves, wine, breads and cakes; and dried the berries for future use.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for medicinal purposes without first consulting a physician.
Moerman, 1998 Used by native Americans to treat toothaches, stomach pains, liver diseases, aching muscles and feet, rheumatism, and used as an emetic, laxative and purgative, as a lotion for open cuts and sores, by athletes to "draw out all the slime in the system" for enhanced endurance, and to treat evil witchcraft victims.
Other usesMoerman, 1998 Native Americans used the hollowed out stems to make pipes and children's blowguns. They also made glue from the fruits or flowers to waterproof cedar bark rain hats.
Burrows, 2001 Although fruits have been used for food and beverage products, ingestion of raw fruit as well as other parts has caused digestive tract problems. Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and profuse salivation. Other signs occasionally observed include abdominal pain, weakness, dizziness, incoordination, labored respiration, and numbness. Death is unlikely. Generally, adverse affects do not arise when the fruits are cooked or fermented, processes which perhaps denature the tertiary structures of the bioactive constituents.
NomenclatureSambucus racemosa s. l. is a circumpolar species with many names assigned over the years.
*Sambucus racemosa L., Sp. Pl. 270. 1753.
Sambucus nigra Thunb., Fl. Jap. 126. 1784, not L. 1753.
Sambucus pubens Michx., Fl. Bor. Amer. 1: 181. 1803.
Sambucus pubescens Persoon, Syn. Pl. 1: 328. 1817.
Sambucus dimidiata Raf., Alsogr. 49. 1838.
Sambucus verrucosa Raf., Alsogr. 49. 1838.
Sambucus heptaphylla Don., Hamb. Gart. U. Bl. Ztg. 490. 1847.
Sambucus praecox Bernhardi, Hamb. Gart. U. Bl. Ztg. 488. 1847.
Sambucus williamsii Hance, Ann. Sci. Nat. Ser. V, 5: 217. 1866.
Sambucus discolor Carr., Rev. Hort. 100. 1868.
Sambucus rosaeflora Carr., Rev. Hort. 434. 1869.
Sambucus melanocarpa A. Gray, Proc. Amer. Acad. Art. Sci. 19: 76. 1883.
Sambucus plumose Hort ex Carr., Rev. Hort. 408. 1891.
Sambucus callicarpa Greene, Fl. Fran. 342. 1892.
Sambucus maritima Greene, Pittonia 2: 297. 1892.
Sambucus leiosperma Leiberg, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 11: 40. 1897.
Sambucus microbotrys Rydb., Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 28: 503. 1901.
Sambucus acuminata Greene, Leaflets Bot. Obs. & Crit. 2: 100. 1910.
Sambucus borealis Greene, Leaflets Bot. Obs. & Crit. 2: 101. 1910.
Sambucus latipinna Nakai, Bot. Mag. Tokyo 30: 290. 1916.
Sambucus pendula Nakai, Bot. Mag. Tokyo 31: 212. 1917.
Sambucus kamtschatica Wolf, Mitt. Deutsch. Dendr. Ges. 33: 34. 1923.
Sambucus barbinervis Nakai, Bot. Mag. Tokyo 40: 477. 1926.
Sambucus glabrescens Nakai, Bot. Mag. Tokyo 40: 479. 1926.
Sambucus sibirica Nakai, Bot. Mag. Tokyo 40: 478. 1926.
Sambucus velutina Nakai, Bot. Mag. Tokyo 40: 478. 1926.
Sambucus longipes Nakai, Rep. Veg. Kamikochi 40. 1928.
Sambucus microsperma Nakai, Rep. Veg. Kamikochi 40. 1928.
Sambucus coreana (Nakai) Komarov & Klob.-Alisora, Key Pl. Far East. Reg. URSS 2: 962. 1932.
Sambucus foetidissima Nakai, Rep. 1st Sci. Exp. Manchoukuo 4/1: 12. 1934.
Sambucus peninsularis Kitagawa, Rep. 1st. Sci. Res. Manch. 3, App. 1: 409. 1939.
Sambucus junnanica J. Vassiljev, Not. Syst. Herb. Inst. Bot. Acad. Sci. URSS 7: 200 Bot. Acad. 1940.
Sambucus potanini J. Vassiljev, Not. Syst. Herb. Inst. Bot. Acad. Sci. URSS 7: 199. 1940.
Sambucus manshurica Kitagawa, Rep. 1st. Sci. Res. Manch. 4: 117. 1940.
Sambucus sachalinensis Pojark., Fl. URSS 23: 439, 726. 1958.
DescriptionHABIT Plants perennial, deciduous, phanerophytic, shrub, monoclinous, 1-3 m tall.
STEMS Main stems ascending or erect, round. Bark smooth, not exfoliating, brown or light brown or light gray, with prominent lenticels. Branches erect or ascending. Twigs brown or light brown or light gray, odoriferous, terete, 3-5 mm in diameter, lenticellate, glabrous or with short and unbranched hairs, erect, white, sparse or moderately dense, distributed throughout, eglandular. Pith light brown, round, continuous, spongy. Sap translucent. For a detailed analysis of shoot vascularization see Esau, 1945
BUDS Terminal and axillary present, monomorphic, scattered along stem; terminal bud ovoid. Axillary buds 1 per axil, ovoid, 3-4 mm long, pointed. Bud scales dark brown, imbricate, membranaceous, with short and unbranched hairs, erect, sparse or moderately dense, distributed throughout, eglandular, margins ciliate. Bud scale scars not encircling the stem. Leaf scars broadly crescent-shaped. Vascular bundle scars 3, U-shaped.
LEAVES Opposite, once pinnately compound, 2 per node, crowded toward stem apex or spaced somewhat evenly along stem, divergent from stem. Stipules present or absent, lateral, free from the petiole, leaf-like or gland-like or transitional, often caducous. Leaves petiolate, petiole terete, 2.5-6 cm long, with short and unbranched hairs, erect, sparse or moderately dense, distributed throughout. Not glabrescent, eglandular, bilaterally symmetric, 15-60 cm long, abaxial surface with long and unbranched hairs, erect or spreading, white, sparse or moderately dense or dense, distributed throughout, eglandular. Adaxial surface glabrous or with long and unbranched hairs, erect or spreading, white, sparse, distributed throughout or distributed along midveins, eglandular. Leaflets 5-9, petiolulate or sessile. Rachis furrowed, with short and unbranched hairs, eglandular. Petiolules 0.1-3 cm long (terminal longer), with short and unbranched hairs, eglandular. Leaflets lanceolate or oblanceolate or elliptic or ovate, 4-16 cm long, 1.5-6 cm wide, base acute or oblique or obtuse, margin serrate, apex acuminate or acute. For a discussion regarding the stipules and their production of extrafloral nectar see Bolli, 1994
INFLORESCENCES Bisexual, compound, terminal thrysoid panicle. Peduncle present, 2.5-4.5 cm long, with short, unbranched hairs. Rachis present. Bracteoles 2, minute, at apex of pedicel.
FLOWERS Coetaneous, formed on the current season's growth, bisexual, with sepals and petals readily distinguishable from one another, 5-merous, 3-5 mm long, fragrance present or absent, perianth of two whorls. Calyx actinomorphic, of fused sepals, persistent. Sepal lobes 5, triangular, margin entire, apex acute, abaxial surface glabrous, eglandular, often tinged with violet. Corolla actinomorphic, acetabuliform, of free petals, deciduous, abaxial and adaxial surfaces the same color, light yellow or white. Petals 5, oblong, margin entire, apex obtuse, abaxial surface glabrous, eglandular, often tinged with violet. Gynoecium syncarpous. Locules 3. Stigmas 1, 3(4)lobed, sessile. Ovary inferior, glabrous. Placentation axile. Androecium epipetalous, extrose. Stamens 5. Anthers yellow, glabrous. Filaments straight, glabrous. For a detailed investigation of floral micro-anatomy and morphology see Wilkinson, 1948 For a morphological analysis of pollen see Bolli, 1994; Donoghue, 1985
FRUITS Drupe, red or orange-red,(f. leucocarpa has white fruit, f. xanthocarpa has amber-yellow fruit) ovoid, 3-5 mm long, 3-5 mm wide, glabrous, eglandular.
SEEDS Yellow, 2-3 mm long, 1.5-2 mm wide, glabrous, eglandular, rugose.
HabitatUsually found in mesic to moist conditions in rich soil such as wooded ravines, rocky woods, mountain stream banks, moist thickets, and occasionally roadsides; usually in upper elevations.
DistributionCircumboreal, indigenous to North America.
United States -- AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, 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, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY
Canada -- AB, BC, MB, NB, NF, NS, ON, PE, QC, SK
New York Metropolitan Region -- Native, usually confined to inland upper elevations in the northern and western regions of the metropolitan area; never found along the coast.
Rarity StatusHeritage global rank -- G5
Connecticut -- Not listed
New Jersey -- Not listed
New York -- Not listed
Flowering April [week 3] - May [week 4]
Pollination Robertson, 1892 Probably: Melittophily -- Apidae, Andrenidae Myophily -- Bombylidae, Syrphidae, Calliphoridae, Anthomyidae Cantharophily -- Dermestidae, Melyridae, Cerambycidae, Scraptiidae [Based on Sambucus canadensis]
Fruiting June [week 2] - August [week 3]
Endozoochory-- Avian Frugivores: Corvus brachyrhynchos (Crow), Sturnus vulgaris (Starling), Quiscalus quiscala (Common Grackle), Cardinalis cardinalis (Cardinal), Coccothraustes vespertinus (Evening Grosbeak), Pheucticus ludovicianus (Rose -breasted Grosbeak), Vireo griseus (White-eyed Vireo), Vireo philadelphicus (Philadelphia Vireo), Vireo olivaceus (Red- eyed Vireo), Turdus migratorius (Robin), Myiarchus crinitus (Great Crested Flycatcher), Sayornis phoebe (Eastern Phoebe), Picoides villosus (Hairy Woodpecker), Picoides pubescens (Downy Woodpecker), Sphyrapicus varius (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker), Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Red-headed Woodpecker), Anas acuta (Pintail), Piranga olivacea (Scarlet Tanager), Catharus fuscescens (Veery Thrush), Dumetella carolinensis (Catbird).
Mammals: Ursus americanus (Black Bear), Peromyscus spp.(White-footed Mice), Sciurus niger (Fox Squirrel), Zapus hudsonius (Jumping Mouse).
Seeds have deep simple morphophysiological dormancy. Although some early researchers reported that some seed may not be dormant. The best results have come from warm stratification followed by cold stratification in moist sand to break dormancy. Germination was best using 14 hour photoperiods at 15-25 degrees C. Germination is epigeous. Dry seed (with the pulp removed) stored in sealed containers at 41 degrees F for two years showed little or no loss of viability. Also seed kept in moist sand at 41 degrees F remained viable after one year.