Red Elderberry is cultivated primarily for its attractive red berries. These berries are slightly toxic to humans, but after cooking they can be used to make jelly or wine. The eastern North American variety of this shrub has been referred to as Sambucus racemosa pubens (also Sambucus pubens); it differs from the typical European variety by its pubescent stems, leaves, and pedicels. Other authorities refer to eastern North American shrubs of this species as Sambucus racemosa racemosa. There is also a western North American variety with black berries. The only other species of this genus in Illinois, Sambucus canadensis (Common Elderberry), is more common and distributed throughout the state. Unlike Red Elderberry in eastern North America, Common Elderberry produces black berries and its panicles of white flowers are wide and flat-headed. An unrelated species, Aralia racemosa (Spikenard), superficially resembles Red Elderberry, but it has small umbellets of 5 or more flowers within each panicle, its berries are dark purple, and it is non-woody.
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