Shrub to 3 m tall Leaves: opposite, pinnately compound. Leaflets five to seven, 5 - 12.5 cm long, lance- egg-shaped to narrowly oblong with pointed tip, finely toothed, often softly hairy beneath. Flowers: borne in large, egg-shaped terminal clusters (cymes), white, 3 - 4 mm wide, numerous. Cyme about as long as broad, with an evident main axis extending beyond the lowermost branches. Corolla five-lobed. Stamens five. Fruit: berry-like (drupe), juicy, in clusters, bright red (seldom white or yellow), 5 mm long. There are three to five stones inside each drupe. Twigs: finely hairy when young. Pith brown.
Similar species: Sambucus canadensis is similar but has flat-topped or dome-shaped cymes, a white pith, fruit that is dark purple, and a flowering time that begins in June.
Flowering: late April to late May
Habitat and ecology: Frequent in mesic and swampy woodlands.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: Though a favorite food of birds, the bitter fruit will cause stomach upsets in people if eaten in quantity.
Etymology: Sambucus comes from the Greek word sambuke, a musical instrument made of elder wood. Racemosa derives from the Latin for "having a raceme" (a cluster of stalked flowers arranged along a central stem). Pubens means downy.
Author: The Morton Arboretum
From Flora of Indiana (1940) by Charles C. Deam
This species is restricted to the lake area where it is generally found in moist woods, in swamps where it is frequently associated with black ash, and rarely on dry ground where I found it associated with beech and sugar maple.
Shrub to 3 m, the younger parts usually finely hairy; pith brown; stipules minute or none; lfls 5-7, lance-ovate to narrowly oblong, acuminate, finely toothed, usually soft-hairy beneath; infl pyramidal or convex, panicle-like, with an evident main axis extending beyond the usually paired lowermost branches; fls white, 3-4 mm wide; fr red (seldom yellow or white), 5 mm; 2n=36 + 0-2 B. Rich woods; circumboreal, in Amer. from Nf. to B.C., s. in our range to Pa., Ind., Ill., and in the mts. to N.C. May, June. The N. American ssp. pubens (Michx.) House is represented in our range by var. pubens (Michx.) Koehne. (S. pubens) Other vars. are cordilleran.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.
Common Name: red elderberry Duration: Perennial Nativity: Native Lifeform: Tree Wetland Status: FACU General: Large deciduous shrub to small tree, 1-4 m tall, with glabrous stems and pithy twigs; foilage with a strong, distinctive odor. Leaves: Opposite, pinnately compound, usually with 5-7 leaflets on short petioles, elliptic to oblong, acute to acuminate, serrate, with asymmetrical bases, 5-14 cm long, 2-8 cm wide; green and glabrous to sparsely glandular above, lighter green and glabrous to hirsute below; stipules deciduous as pair of thickened glandular appendages. Flowers: Many flowered conical or pyramidal shaped compound cyme; small flowers with inconspicuous calyx, corolla cream or yellow colored, 5-lobed, lobes longer than tube. Fruits: Large cluster of small, bright red globose berries 4-6 mm. Ecology: Found in moist soils in riparian areas from 6,000-10,000 ft (1829-3048 m); flowers May-July. Notes: Can be identified by the pinnately compound leaves and its pyramidal cyme, its red berries, and stipules. Usually found in higher elevations along riparian or in more moisty areas. There is a serious question as to whether or not this species is present at any parks in the region, a collection is essential. Ethnobotany: Used to stimulate sweating in dry fever, flowers and dried berries are used as a diuretic, as an aid for rheumatism and arthritis; notable that the berries are thought to be mildly toxic. Etymology: Sambucus comes from the Greek Sambuke, referring to an ancient instrument, however there seems to be some debate as to the construction and use of this instrument; while racemosa means having flowers in racemes. Synonyms: None Editor: SBuckley, 2010