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??

Posted by: kristin d - Owatonna, MN
on: 2018-05-19 10:36:44

I discovered this a few years ago in our woods. New plants/trees have shown up since an ice storm a few years back. I believe its been seeds planted by birds or deer.

Posted by: Maggie Schwegman - near Bemidji, MN
on: 2018-07-22 21:21:14

They grow in a wooded area near our yard. Recently they have increased in number and have numerous berry clumps. Since they are attractive, I have been asked about propagation,ie do they spread through a root system, can the berries be planted successfully, can we use cuttings from the branches? How invasive are they? Would be interested in information

Posted by: Pat W - My backyard near Brainerd
on: 2018-12-13 16:38:58

In the past eight years my Elderberries have multiplied, to my joy. The bird species that have now nested nearby in order to feed here is phenomenal. Scarlet tanager, Bluebird, Catbird, Cedar waxwing, Indigo bunting, Baltimore oriole, etc. Elderberries are your birds' friends. More is better.

Posted by: Nancy Jo Austin - May Twp, Washington County
on: 2019-05-01 21:10:03

Our six acres, after having been farmed for decades, had lain fallow for many years when we bought it in 1987. We planted lots of native trees, and are still finding surprises such as paper birch, golden birch, and red elderberries.

Posted by: Julie Hella - near Deerwood, Crow Wing county
on: 2019-05-26 11:50:32

I have some growing on the upturned root balls on trees toppled in the 6/2016 tornado.

Posted by: john - New Ulm
on: 2019-06-25 14:45:56

same plant species but the wild berries are orange in color....

Posted by: Nancy Thomas - St. Cloud, Stearns county
on: 2020-05-05 06:33:32

3 plants about 100 feet apart - all growing in the middle of a lot Buckthorn trees.

Posted by: Susan Cassidy - Ham Lake
on: 2020-06-24 05:40:40

They are very common in shaded areas here.

Posted by: Gerry Schroeder - Shingle Creek in Brooklyn Park.
on: 2020-06-24 13:42:51

Just found a bush yesterday in wetland area at edge of yard.

Posted by: Donna Forbes - Duluth
on: 2020-07-03 07:56:37

Growing in a rock wall on our property line. Very tall. Looks to be very vigorous despite having limited poor soil that it is growing in.

Posted by: Jennifer O'Brien - Edina
on: 2020-07-08 12:15:07

Have had several of these shrubs pop up in a shaded, woody area of my backyard. They have never blossomed or produce berries until this year when 2 large oak trees died and brought in more light. I like the shape and it's great to have color in the shade with the berries. Worried a little about the toxicity, but my dogs have never been interested in these plants.

Posted by: Peter - Washington County
on: 2021-05-20 12:28:53

These are everywhere on my property. They're extremely vigorous growers, and to my immense joy, are even out-competing buckthorn and garlic mustard in some areas. I have a very large front yard, and I'm thinking of propagating them and planting a bunch there. The birds love them, and I love the birds, so it's a win-win situation. They're growing in an old-growth oak forest, and grow incredibly fast, even in deep shade.

Posted by: Karla Olson - Milaca
on: 2021-06-21 16:29:06

I have scads of them on my property in Milaca (near the Rum River), more each year. Very wooded property. Much of the time they are growing near/around dead pines I haven't yet removed. Lush and pretty!

Posted by: Jalene Eden - Pine County
on: 2021-06-25 10:17:47

We have a few plants close to the house which the birds love. For several years I've taken berries to other locations in our forest and put them under the leave litter. Its a very slow way to propagate this shrub because chipmunks and other small critters love the berries. So this year I'm saving seed and will germinate them in fiber pots next spring and put them in several areas. Red Elderberry are a very important early summer food source for nesting birds.

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