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.