Sambucus racemosa

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: red elderberry 
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Adoxaceae
Native Range: North America, Eurasia
Zone: 3 to 7
Height: 8.00 to 12.00 feet
Spread: 8.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Hedge, Naturalize
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Tolerate: Wet Soil


Winter hardy to USDA Zones 3 to 6 or 7 where it is best grown in deep, medium to wet, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best foliage color is in full sun. Tolerates a wide range of soils, but prefers moist, humusy, nutrient-rich, neutral to slightly acidic loams. Spreads by root suckers to form colonies. Prune suckers as they appear unless naturalizing. A large number of late winter pruning options include (a) pruning out dead or weakened stems, (b) shortening one year stems or (c) cutting some stems back to the ground to rejuvenate. Some horticulturists recommend a hard spring pruning for maintaining best foliage appearance and habit.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sambucus racemosa, commonly known as red elder or red elderberry, is a deciduous suckering shrub which typically grows to 8-12’ tall with a somewhat sprawling habit. It features (1) opposite, pinnate-compound, green leaves (6-9” long) which have 5-7 leaflets (each to 4” long), (2) dome-shaped clusters (panicled cymes) of numerous, late spring to early summer, tiny, fragrant, white flowers and (3) dark red (black in the case of the Rocky Mountain elderberry known as S. racemosa var. melanocarpa), summer-to-fall elderberry fruits in upright clusters. This shrub is native to Europe, northern Asia and parts of Alaska, across Canada and the northern U.S. south to California and New Mexico but mostly south in the central and eastern states to South Dakota, Missouri, and Georgia where it is typically found growing in moist woodlands, thickets, stream banks, fields, fence rows and roadsides.

Fruits are sour and usually not consumed raw by humans, but may be cooked for use in the preparation of wine, jelly and pies. Fruits are attractive to wildlife.

Historically, Sambucus racemosa (native to Europe and Asia) was commonly known as European red elder and the very similar Sambucus pubens also known as S. racemosa var. pubens (native to North America) was known as American red elder. Many authorities have now grouped both of these red elders together under the name of Sambucus racemosa.

Genus name comes from the Latin name, perhaps connected with sambuca a kind of harp.

Specific epithet means with flowers in racemes.


Some susceptibility to canker, powdery mildew, leaf spot, borers, spider mites and aphids. Branches are susceptible to damage from high winds or from heavy snow/ice in winter. Plants will spread by root suckers. Resistant to deer browse.


Group or mass in naturalized areas where suckering spread may be appreciated. Good accent shrub featuring deeply incised leaves, attractive flowers and interesting fruits. Landscape specimen, shrub borders, screens, backgrounds, stream/pond peripheries or low spots. Good sprawling hedge.