Sambucus racemosa

Red elderberry


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (flowering plants). Class - Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons). Subclass - Asteridae. Order - Dipsacales. Family - Adoxaceae (muskroot). Genus - Sambucus L. Species - Sambucus racemosa L

Ecology: Red elderberry prefers open sites but tolerates shade. Red elderberry is most common in early seral communities but may occur in all stages of succession. Red elderberry commonly establishes in canopy gaps within mature forests.


Habit: Plant 1--6 m. Leaf: leaflets 5--7, 4--16 cm, lanceolate to oblong-ovate, base generally asymmetric, tip +- acuminate. Inflorescence: 4--12 cm diam, +- dome-shaped; central axis generally dominant. Flower: petals often reflexed. Fruit: red or purple-black, not glaucous.


Fire effects: Fire can crack red elderberry's hard seedcoat, which may enhance germination. Red elderberry sprouts from the root crown and/or rhizomes after top-kill by fire.


Seed production: Red elderberry is outcrossing. Flowers are pollinated by bees, flies, and wind. Frugivorous birds and mammals disperse red elderberry seeds. Closed canopies or browsing can reduce red elderberry flower and fruit production. Red elderberry has a litter and soil seed bank. Fallen logs may also be a seedbed for red elderberry.

Vegetative regeneration: Red elderberry sprouts from the root crown and/or rhizomes after top-kill. It also layers. Sprouting is generally the most common method of red elderberry regeneration, although seedling establishment allows for colonization in new areas.

Species Distribution


USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

USFS Plant Database
Habeck, R. J. 1992. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.

The Jepson Herbarium
The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Burke Museum. 2016 [Online]. University of Washington.
Photo credit: Bud Kovalchik
Photo credit: Dana Visalli