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Red Elderberry Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa (Sambucus pubens, Sambucus callicarpa, Sambucus microbotrys)


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Red Elderberry, showing fruit and leaves
credit: Jeffdelonge/CCSA

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Alternate name: Red Elder, Pacific Red Elderberry, Coast Red Elder

Family: Caprifoliaceae, Honeysuckle view all from this family

Description Sambucus racemosa, also called red-berried elder, 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. The flowers are in rounded panicles, and the berries are bright red; they are smaller shrubs, rarely exceeding 3–4 m (9.8–13 ft) 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 rounded 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 drupe containing 3 to 5 seeds. The fruits are popular with birds, who distribute the seeds.

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 people of the Pacific Northwest.

Warning All species of elderberries that grow in North America are potentially poisonous if plant parts are ingested. The seeds of this subspecies are considered poisonous, causing diarrhea and vomiting. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Habitat Beaches & shorelines, Watersides (fresh).

Range Western Canada, Northwest, New England, California, Great Lakes, Alaska, Eastern Canada, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Plains, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic.