Red elderberry is a large deciduous shrub or small tree of the Honeysuckle family that grows 10-20 ft tall with a broad arching form. Older specimens have large, multiple trunks with coarse bark. Red elderberry begins growth early in spring and produces abundant, small, creamy white flowers in large, conical or pyramidal shaped clusters between April and July. Large clusters of small, bright red, fleshy berries appear in summer bearing 2-5 seeds per fruit. Opposite leaves are divided into 5-7 pointed, oval to oblong or lance shaped 5-10 cm long leaflets with finely toothed margins. The foliage has a strong, distinctive odor. Twigs are pithy and light weight, dark red or purple to reddish-brown in color, and covered with numerous small bumps (raised pores). Dead terminal twigs are common.
Other scientific names include Sambucus callicarpa, Sambucus microbotrys, Sambucus pubens, Sambucus pubens. var. arborescens, Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens and Sambucus racemosa var. pubens. Alternate common names include scarlet elder, stinking elderberry, stinking elder, red-berried elder, bunchberry elder, and red elder.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Distribution and adaptation
Red elderberry is an early to mid seral species in the west and a component of climax deciduous forests in the eastern U. S. It inhabits streambanks, ravines, swamps, moist forest clearings and higher ground near wetlands from sea level to 9500 ft in elevation. It is shade tolerant but prefers a sunny exposure. Red elderberry is found on a wide variety of soils but favors deeper, loamy sands and silts and nutrient rich sites with good drainage, ample moisture and a pH of 5.0 to 8.0. This species is circumpolar in northern temperate zones extending south in cooler areas along the California coast and at higher elevations in the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. Red elderberry is widespread throughout its range and is occasionally dominant or co-dominant in moist areas. It is still common but less dense on upland sites.
Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 3: 268.
Aboveground description: Red elderberries are typically low-growing shrubs [186,236] but may grow 7 to 20 feet (2-6 m) m) tall [118,209]. They may grow as single shrubs or trees [121,179,236] or form clumps [179,236] or thickets . Red elderberries have pubescent, pithy, soft to barely woody branches [102,209,218] with soft bark . Red elderberry is deciduous [98,236]. The large, compound leaves are opposite, with ovate-lanceolate leaflets that are downy on their undersides. The inflorescence is a large, showy, panicled cyme [218,218,236,240] bearing small (~3 mm long), numerous flowers [126,209,218]. The fruits are berrylike drupes [209,236,240]. At maturity, drupes of the typical variety are red [57,240], or rarely, yellow or white [137,238], while those of Rocky Mountain elderberry are purplish-black to black [57,102,240]. The seeds are nutlets [57,98], with 2 to 4 seeds/fruit . The foliage, branches, and flowers are foul-scented when crushed [126,209].
Belowground description: Underground structure of red elderberry was described in few studies as of 2008. An Ontario study found red elderberry had highly branched lateral roots, with diameter of secondary roots ranging from 1.38 to 2.76 inches (3.50-7.00 cm). Maximum length of root hairs (1.6 inches (4.0 cm)) was low relative to associated species . The typical variety of red elderberry is sometimes rhizomatous ([52,241], review by ); however, on the West coast, the typical variety may lack rhizomes (Newton 1984, personal communication cited in ). As of 2008, it was unclear how often rhizomes occurred within and/or among red elderberry populations. A northern Utah study found red elderberry rhizomes and roots extended 3 feet (1 m) deep . Area of red elderberry clones in the Rocky Mountains may range from 1 to 16 mÂ² .
Climate, moisture, and nutrient regime: Red elderberry grows in interior and coastal climates but is rare in arid regions. On the Kenai Peninsula, red elderberry was positively correlated with the mesic climate of interior lowlands but not the moist, maritime climate of the coast (P<0.05) . In the Rocky Mountains, Davis  reported a mean of 34 inches (860 mm) annual precipitation for subalpine red elderberry shrubfields and spruce-fir forests with a red elderberry component. Red elderberry is apparently less tolerant of warm climates than blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. cerulea), and is confined to relatively cool, moist riparian zones, swamps, and mountainous areas in its southern distribution . In Arizona, red elderberry is reported only from the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon .
Red elderberry prefers moist, [98,102,236], nutrient-rich [143,150] sites but occasionally grows in dry areas. It is often found in riparian zones [22,179,204], wet meadows, and moist to wet parklands , and is considered a facultative wetland species . In montane zones, it is most common in openings where snow accumulates and remains until late spring [179,195]. Red elderberry is reported on dry to very moist, nutrient-rich soils in British Columbia [143,150].
Red elderberry can be an indicator species for site productivity. A study on the Central Coast Range of Oregon found red elderberry was positively correlated with site productivity (P<0.05) , and red elderberry is an indicator of moderately to richly productive sites in Wisconsin . A study on the Kenai Peninsula of southeastern Alaska also found red elderberry was positively correlated with site productivity (P<0.05) .
Red elderberry is moderately flood tolerant. In the Fraser River valley of British Columbia, red elderberry died back to the root crown and sprouted after a 50-year flood in 1948 .
Soil properties and parent materials: Red elderberry generally grows in deep, well-drained, loamy soils [52,102,245]. It is reported on sandy loam and loam in the Great Lakes states . Soil pH across red elderberry's range varies from acidic  to basic, although neutral soils are preferred . Red elderberry grows on limestone-derived soils along Lake Champlain; anorthosite and gneiss parent materials in the Adirondack Mountains; and on shale, sandstone, and conglomerate materials in the Catskill Mountains .
Elevation: Red elderberry generally grows in submontane to montane zones in the West , although its range extends into alpine fellfields in California . Red elderberry occurs mostly in high-elevation montane zones in the East [194,244].
|Elevational ranges across red elderberry's distribution. Information pertains to the species unless a variety is specified.|
|Arizona||typical variety from 7,500-10,000 feet; Rocky Mountain red elderberry found ≥7,500 feet |
|California||<11,000 feet |
|Colorado||≥10,000 feet in Custer County |
|Nevada||6,200-9,000 feet |
|Utah||4,460-1,025 feet |
|Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains||>3,000 feet in yellow birch boulderfields |
|Adirondack Mountains||100-3,830 feet |
|Intermountain West||5,900-10,000 feet |
|Rocky Mountains||<3,300 feet |
Key Plant Community Associations
Red elderberry is common in many forest communities but is rarely dominant (for
It typically occurs in scattered patches or as isolated individuals ,
although it often forms thickets in northern Utah .
Red elderberry grows in riparian zones across its distribution (for example,
Red elderberry is common in conifer series in the West (contiguous United States west of the
Mississippi River), particularly fir-spruce (Abies-Picea spp.) and other mesic or
wet forest types [65,69,82,161]. It is a
frequent associate in red alder (Alnus rubra)
communities of the Pacific coast .
Red elderberry is also a common component of red alder and other
shrubfields in Alaska . It grows in Sitka alder-willow (Alnus viridis subsp.
sinuata-Salix spp.) communities in south-central Alaska .
In the Great Lakes and eastern regions, red elderberry occurs in
hardwood [34,38,61], mixed, and spruce-fir
(, review by ) forests. It
may be one of only a few woody species to persist in the understory of
closed-canopy, old-growth eastern forests . In a floristics study of northern mixed-hardwood
communities, relative abundance of red elderberry increased
from southern Michigan to east-central Minnesota [202,203].
Vegetation classifications describing plant communities in which red
elderberry is a dominant or indicator species are listed below.
- Rocky Mountain elderberry is an indicator species of grand fir (Abies grandis)
mosaic habitat types of northern Idaho. It is among the few woody plants that grow in western bracken
fern (Pteridium aquilinum) glades within grand fir forests .
- Rocky Mountain elderberry riparian vegetation type 
- quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)/red elderberry community type of mid- to high elevations (8,000-9,000 feet
(2,440-2,740 m)) 
- sweet birch-eastern hemlock-American beech (Betula lenta-Tsuga
canadensis-Fagus grandifolia)/red elderberry/roughleaf ricegrass (Oryzopsis asperifolia)
northern mesic forest type 
- red alder-salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)-red elderberry floodplain
association of the Kimsquit River valley; a seral stage of the black
cottonwood-Sitka spruce (Populus balsamifera subsp.
trichocarpa-Picea sitchensis)/salmonberry association 
- sugar maple (Acer saccharum)-American beech/striped maple-alternate-leaf
dogwood (A. pensylvanicum-Cornus alternifolia)/red elderberry plant
association of the St Lawrence Valley 
Red elderberry may be propagated vegetatively by dormant hardwood cuttings taken in late fall or winter, by softwood cuttings taken in the spring or summer, and by root or rhizome cuttings. Stem cuttings require at least 2 nodes (joints) with the basal cut just below the lower node. Stem cuttings may benefit from the use of a rooting hormone solution like IBA or IBA-talc. Layering is another means of propagation. Sturdy, unrooted dormant cuttings taken in late fall or winter can be planted directly on moist streambanks as “live stakes”.
Due to seed coat and embryo dormancy, dry or fresh seed requires 30-60 days warm, moist (20-30°C) stratification followed by at least 90-150 days cold stratification (5°C) [cold, moist chilling], or 5-15 min sulfuric acid plus 2 months cold, moist chilling at 1-4°C for good germination. Others suggest that after pulp removal, fresh seed can be sown immediately in late summer to provide both warm (fall) and cold (winter) periods for conditioning. There are about 200,000 – 300,000 clean seeds per pound. Red elderberry consistently produces abundant fruit and seed. Container and bare root nursery stock may be planted using standard practices. Fall planting is recommended over winter and spring if material is available at this time.
mainly hypophyllous colony of Ramularia hyphomycetous anamorph of Ramularia sambucina causes spots on live leaf of Sambucus racemosa
Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Rigidoporus ulmarius is saprobic on dead, white-rotted stump of Sambucus racemosa
Fire Management Considerations
Prescribed and wildfires may have little effect on red elderberry abundance in many plant communities. Red elderberry may show postfire increases after either infrequent or very frequent fire. By removing the canopy, infrequent, stand-replacement fires provide openings for red elderberry establishment in plant communities that had been in the late-seral, closed canopy stage for decades or centuries. Frequent stand-replacement fire may help maintain brushfields of red elderberry, red alder, and other sprouting shrubs at the expense of conifers. Rhizomatous populations of red elderberry are probably more likely to form thickets after fire than nonrhizomatous populations. Because rhizomatous habit of red elderberry varies among populations, managers wanting to predict postfire structure of red elderberry may want to sample underground red elderberry growth on the proposed burn site.
Fire-maintained shrubfields with red elderberry are important habitat for grizzly bears. In the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho, grizzly bears used a mixed-shrub burn with a large red elderberry component more than expected in summer, based on the shrubfield's availability (P<0.1). One grizzly bear spent nearly 100% of her time in the burn, feeding on red elderberry and huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.) fruits .
Red elderberry is subject to wide variations in FIRE REGIMES across its broad geographic distribution. Since it is infrequent on most sites, fire studies to date (2008) have not determined which FIRE REGIMES favor red elderberry. Given red elderberry's position in successionÂwhich also varies but tends toward early seral stages and open canopiesÂred elderberry is likely to be most abundant on sites where fire or other disturbance creates or maintains an open canopy.
Many plant communities with red elderberry historically experienced short return-interval, low-severity understory fires at intervals of 20 years or less. Examples of such communities include pine-oak (Pinus-Quercus spp.) forests and woodlands of the Appalachian Mountains [158,171], jack pine woodlands in the Great Lakes , and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests and woodlands of the West [13,222].
Many other plant communities where red elderberry is a characteristic species had mixed-severity FIRE REGIMES. Sierra lodgepole pine/mountain hemlock (P. contorta var. murrayana/Tsuga mertensiana) and Sierra lodgepole pine-western white pine (P. monticola) forests, for example, historically experienced small (5 acres (0.4 ha)), low-severity surface fires at intervals of 9 or more years  but also had larger, mixed surface-and-crown and crown fires at intervals of 50 or more years [99,153]. Some Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (P. contorta var. latifolia) forests also had mixed-severity fire regimes, although many experienced mostly stand-replacement fires . In a study in the northern Rocky Mountains, Arno  found fire was more frequent and less severe in Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forests in areas having dry summers. Douglas-fir-western hemlock and Douglas-fir-Sitka spruce communities of the Pacific Northwest also experienced surface, surface-and-crown, and crown fires at varying intervals. In general, size and severity of fires in Douglas-fir communities historically tended to decrease, while fire frequency increased, southward from western Washington to northern California . Mixed-hardwood forests of the Northeast also historically experienced some mixed-severity fires .
Red elderberry also occurs in plant communities that historically had mostly stand-replacement fires of various return intervals. Many spruce-fir (Picea-Abies spp.) [87,155], mixed hardwood-spruce , and hardwood  forests of the East may have gone centuries between stand-replacement fires, while relatively moist Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forests historically experienced mostly stand-replacement fires at moderate intervals (60-80 years), with some low-severity surface fires [2,3,67]. Montane chaparral communities of the Sierra Nevada with a red elderberry component were (and are) maintained by frequent- to moderate-interval, stand-replacing fires . Gap succession was probably more important than fire in maintaining red elderberry in spruce, hardwood, and mixed-wood communities that had long return-interval, stand-replacement fires.
The Fire Regime Table summarizes characteristics of FIRE REGIMES for vegetation communities in which red elderberry may occur. Follow the links in the table to documents that provide more detailed information on these FIRE REGIMES.
In coastal British Columbia, red elderberry is an indicator of "water-receiving" sites that have rapid decomposition of forest floor materials on burned or cutover areas .
Biomass and stand structure analyses: Fierke and Kauffman  provide equations to predict aboveground biomass of red elderberry and other woody species in black cottonwood riparian forests of the Pacific Northwest. Hanley and others  provide measures of leaf, twig, and stem biomass of red elderberry and other vascular plant species in red alder-western hemlock stands in southeastern Alaska. Tremblay and Larocque  provide measures of seasonal changes in biomass of red elderberry, other woody species, and mosses in a balsam fir stand in southern Quebec.
Gemborys  provides structural analyses of old-growth mixed hardwood-conifer stands on the White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, including densities and importance values of shrubs and basal areas, densities, and importance values of overstory trees. Red elderberry is a shrub component in some of the stands .
Fire adaptations and plant response to fire
FIRE ADAPTATIONS AND PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Red elderberry sprouts from the root crown and/or rhizomes after top-kill by fire ([25,26,165,171,215], Newton 1984, personal communication cited in ). Not all red elderberry populations are rhizomatous (see Belowground description), so postfire rhizome sprouting will not occur on all sites.
Red elderberry may establish after fire from on-site seed stored in litter  or soil [100,107,108,109,216] or from off-site seed. Red elderberry seeds in the seed bank may begin germinating the spring after fire (see Regeneration Processes and Seasonal Development) [25,26,208]. Because red elderberry seed is animal dispersed, postfire establishment from off-site seed sources is likely; however, animal dispersal onto burns was not well documented in the literature as of 2008. A year after the severe Sundance Wildfire in northern Idaho, red elderberry seedlings and root crown sprouts on study sites had 3% cover and 4% frequency (seedling and root crown sprout data were pooled) .
Red elderberry does not often gain dominance after fire; it typically remains a minor component of the vegetation on sites where it occurred in low numbers before fire (for example, ). However, postfire seedling emergence may be "extensive" on some sites [25,26,208].
Many studies show red elderberry is favored but not greatly enhanced by fire [102,106,110,152,181,183,212,246]. In western Montana, red elderberry attained minor coverage (0.2-0.3%) 2 years after both the Miller Creek prescribed fire on the Flathead National Forest and the Newman Ridge prescribed fire on the Lolo National Forest. Red elderberry was not present on study sites before the fires , suggesting that it established from on- or off-site seed, not sprouts. After spring wildfires in a sugar maple-eastern hemlock-American beech forest in south-central New York, red elderberry saplings reestablished from sprouts but had the lowest importance value (2.5) of all woody species present . Red elderberry had 0.3% cover 35 years after a wildfire in a red spruce-Fraser fir (Picea rubens-Abies fraseri) forest in North Carolina. Its density at postfire year 35 was estimated at 1,364 stems/ha . In chronosequence studies in New Brunswick, red elderberry was present in jack pine and mixed-hardwood forests that developed 7 to 20 years after stand-replacing fires. Red elderberry was present in mostly trace amounts. Its cover (3%) and frequency (3%) were greatest in 10-year-old burns .
On many sites, a combination of fire and other treatments may have little effect on red elderberry abundance.
Logging and burning: After clearcutting and slash burning in subalpine fir-western larch-Engelmann spruce (Larix occidentalis-Picea engelmannii) stands on the Flathead National Forest, Montana, red elderberry had a nonsignificant, 5.6% mean decrease in frequency compared to unburned stands. Time-since-fire on study sites ranged from 2 to 15 years .
Red elderberry responses to winter clearcutting and slash burning were similar in studies on the Clearwater, MacKenzie, and Headwaters Forest Districts of south-central, central interior, and east-central British Columbia, respectively. All sites were logged when snow was deep enough to prevent disturbance to understory vegetation or the forest floor [108,109,111]. On the Clearwater Forest District, red elderberry established from on-site seed after winter clearcutting of an Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forest followed by spring or fall slash burning, with red elderberry frequency consistently higher in burned than in unburned plots (P<0.01). Red elderberry cover was generally low. In postfire year 2, a flush of postfire red elderberry germination resulted in greater cover on burned than unburned plots (P>0.04); otherwise, there were no significant differences in cover between treatments. Many germinants on burned plots did not survive. Postfire sprouting of top-killed red elderberry was observed but not quantified . See the Research Project Summary of the Clearwater study for further details on the postfire response of red elderberry and 33 other plant species.
|Mean percent cover (and frequency) of red elderberry before and after clearcutting and slash burning on the Clearwater Forest District of British Columbia |
|Forest District||Before logging and fire||Postfire year|
|spring fire||0 (0)||1 (70)||4 (75)||1.7 (80)||2.4 (65)||1.2 (60)|
|fall fire||0 (0)||0.1 (53)||3.7 (47)||1.3 (53)||1 (40)||0.7 (27)|
|unburned||0.4 (7)||1.4 (14)||1.4 (7)||2.1 (7)||0.7 (7)||0.4 (7)|
The MacKenzie and Headwaters sites were burned the summer following winter cutting. Over 10 years, red elderberry decreased slightly in cover but increased greatly in frequency over prefire values on the MacKenzie site, which was in a hybrid spruce/devil's club (P. glauca Ã P. engelmannii/Oplopanax horridus) forest . Prefire abundance was not measured on the Headwaters site, a subalpine fir-hybrid spruce/big huckleberry forest. Red elderberry cover increased over 3 postfire years on the Headwaters site. Frequency remained stable over that period, but had decreased by postfire year 10 compared to postfire years 1 to 5 . See the Research Paper of the MacKenzie study for further details on the postfire responses of red elderberry, other vascular plant species, and bryophytes.
|Mean percent cover (and frequency) of red elderberry after clearcutting and slash burning on the MacKenzie  and Headwaters  Forest Districts of British Columbia|
|Forest District||After logging; |
|MacKenzie||0.50 (17)||7.17 (100)||16.33 (100)||3.17 (100)||0.78 (83)||0.38 (100)|
|Headwaters||not available||0.08 (83.3)||1.27 (83.3)||2.25 (83.3)||1.83 (100)||0.20 (50)|
Herbicides and burning: Roberts  reported that red elderberry seedlings were "present but not abundant" 4 months after August application of picloram followed by a September prescribed fire in a red alder community on the Coast Ranges of Oregon. Red elderberry sprouting also occurred, with means of 13 inches (32 cm) for clump height, 10 inches (26 cm) for clump diameter, and 6 stems/clump for clump density at postfire month 3.5 (n=4) . In the Prince George Forest District of east-central British Columbia, red elderberry established from soil-stored seed after winter clearcutting, August slash burning, and May replanting of a subalpine fir/devil's club forest. On plots where fire exposed mineral soil, red elderberry increased in the first 3 postfire years, then declined in postfire years 5 and 10. On plots where some litter and duff remained after burning, cover and frequency peaked in postfire year 1. Across postfire years 1 through 10, red elderberry was less frequent on mineral soil than on forest floor plots .
|Mean percent cover (and frequency) of red elderberry after clearcutting and slash burning in British Columbia |
|Mineral soil (n=19 plots)||not applicable||2.90 (47.37)||7.01 (63.16)||3.21 (47.37)||1.59 (47.37)||1.70 (36.84)|
|Forest floor (n=128 plots)||0.09 (1.56)||15.07 (89.84)||10.70 (87.50)||3.68 (71.88)||1.50 (60.16)||0.48 (39.06)|
In a vine maple (Acer circinatum)-salmonberry shrubfield in coastal central Oregon, September herbicide (glyphosate) and October prescribed fire treatments reduced red elderberry cover over pretreatment levels in the short term, while September use of herbicide alone increased red elderberry cover over pretreatment levels. Red elderberries not killed by the treatments sprouted from their root crowns. Treatments were undertaken to convert the shrubfield to a conifer plantation .
|Mean red elderberry cover (%) before and after treatments in an Oregon shrubfield |
|Treatment||Pretreatment||Posttreatment year 1|
|Herbicide and fire||20||5|
In a study on the Siuslaw National Forest in coastal Oregon, red elderberries on north-facing slopes recovered after combined tree harvest, spray-and-burn, and repeat spray treatments, while red elderberries on south-facing slopes were apparently favored by cutting and/or fire but killed by the second spraying. Study sites were on a Douglas-fir plantation that had been clearcut in late winter and early spring, sprayed with 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T in July, broadcast burned in September, replanted to Douglas-fir in February, and resprayed with 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T three years after the broadcast burn .
|Mean red elderberry cover (%) after clearcutting, herbicide spraying, and burning on the Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon |
|North aspect||South aspect|
|Postspray month 1 (1 month prefire)||0.05||0|
|Postfire year 1||0.01||0.02|
|Postfire year 3||1.00||0.07|
|Postfire year 4; 1 year after 2nd spraying||0.06||0|
Red elderberry may dominate early postfire vegetation on some sites. In a chronosequence study in north-central Idaho, red elderberry was among the most abundant shrub species on logged and broadcast-burned grand fir/Oregon boxwood (Paxistima myrsinites) sites on 1-, 3-, and 8-year-old burned sites. It was 1 of 5 or 6 shrubs showing largest canopy volumes on 3- and 8-year-old burns. Red elderberry regenerated primarily by sprouting. Postfire stands dominated by red elderberry were on steep, northwest-facing slopes at the highest-elevation (5,100-5,300 feet (1,555-1,615 m)) grand fir/Oregon boxwood sites. Red elderberry canopy volume and height across different-aged stands were :
|Mean canopy volume and height of red elderberry on clearcut-and-broadcast burned grand fir/Oregon boxwood sites in Idaho |
|Postfire year 1||Postfire year 3||Postfire year 8||Postfire year 12||Postfire year 23|
|Canopy volume*||0.5||1.2||2.5||0.8||not given|
|*Percent plant volume in a 1 Ã 1 Ã 3 m plot.|
Lyon  reported an increase in red elderberry density after an August prescribed fire in south-central Idaho. The site was on "less disturbed terrain" within a heavily logged Douglas-fir forest. He attributed the increase in red elderberry density to multiple stems sprouting from the root crowns of formerly single-stemmed red elderberry plants. Prefire abundance of red elderberry was not quantified, but 2 years after the fire red elderberry had the 3rd largest crown volume of 12 shrub species . See Lyon's Research Paper on this study for further information on the fire and the postfire responses of 64 plant species.
|Mean red elderberry density and crown volume after prescribed fire in Idaho |
|Postfire year 1||Postfire year 2|
|Density (plants/1,000 feetÂ²)||0.02||0.74|
|Crown volume (feetÂ³)||0.3||27.9|
Browsing: Protection from browsing will likely increase red elderberry postfire abundance on burned areas with large ungulate populations. In a sugar maple-American beech forest in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, red elderberry showed rapid growth after prescribed fall burning and postfire exclusion of white-tailed deer. Five years after treatments, red elderberry had attained heights up to 10 feet (3 m) in exclosures. On burned plots where white-tailed deer were not excluded, red elderberry was ≤3 feet (1 m) tall. White-tailed deer density was approximately 27 individuals/mileÂ² in the area .
Frequent repeated fire: Limited studies suggest that repeated fire generally favors red elderberry [23,187], although some report red elderberry decreases after repeated fires [25,26,208]. Repeated fires generally promote red elderberry and other sprouting shrub species over conifers and fire-sensitive shrubs such as Oregon boxwood. On the Tillamook Burn of northwestern Oregon, red elderberry was not present on unburned plots but had 2% frequency on burned plots. At the time of the study, the burned plots had experienced 3 stand-replacing wildfires in 12 years. Overall, sprouting shrub species were more common in burned than unburned plots . A series of prescribed fires to increase moose browse on the Chugach National Forest of southeastern Alaska slightly reduced red elderberry cover below prefire levels. Fifteen to 19 years after the fires, mean postfire coverage of red elderberry on 3 quaking aspen-balsam poplar (Populus tremuloides-P. balsamifera subsp. trichocarpa) sites was 3% compared to prefire coverage of 5% .
Severe fire: Based on limited studies, red elderberry shows no clear pattern of response to severe fires. Red elderberry sprouted "prolifically" the year after an explosion in a gasoline pipeline ignited a "severe" wildfire in a black cottonwood-red alder forest on Whatcom Creek, Washington . It showed variable responses after severe fires in northeastern Oregon. Reestablishment was slow after a wildfire in a grand fir/queencup beadlily association near the John Day River. Red elderberry was not present on severely burned plots 1 year after the fire. It increased to 1% cover by postfire year 5. A severe wildfire near Twin Lakes, however, apparently promoted red elderberry. The fire burned through a plot established in a subalpine fir/Carolina bugbane (Trautvetteria caroliniensis) forest a year before. Red elderberry cover was 1% before the fire and 5% in postfire year 1 .
Late postfire succession: Since red elderberry tolerates shade (see Successional status), it may persist in late-seral postfire succession. Red elderberry was "occasionally found" on a 55-year-old burn in Yellowstone National Park . In a chronosequence study in subboreal hybrid spruce/devil's club forests of British Columbia, red elderberry was a common species on 14-, 50- to 80-, and 140+-year-old burns .
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY [165,214,216]:
Tree with a sprouting root crown
Tall shrub with a sprouting root crown
Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil (applies to only rhizomatous populations)
Ground residual colonizer (on site, initial community)
Initial off-site colonizer (off site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on- or off-site seed sources)
Immediate Effect of Fire
Fire can crack red elderberry's hard seedcoat [25,26,208], which may enhance germination [25,26]. Fire typically top-kills red elderberry plants [25,26,165,171,215]. Stickney  rates red elderberry as low in susceptibility to fire kill because perennating buds on red elderberry's root crown are protected by mineral soil.
Prolonged heat kills red elderberry seed. A greenhouse study found red elderberry showed better seedling emergence when not subject to sustained high temperatures. Soil samples were collected from an unburned subalpine fir/big huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) forest in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. After 6 months in the greenhouse, unheated soil samples had a mean density of 40 red elderberry germinants/mÂ², while soil samples heated to 120 Â°F (50 Â°C) for 1 hour had a mean density of 13 germinants/mÂ². Red elderberry did not emerge from soil samples heated to 212 Â°F (100 Â°C) or 302 Â°F (150 Â°C) for 1 hour .
More info for the terms: climax, cover, density, frequency, hardwood, importance value, presence, selection, shrub, shrubs, succession, tree
Primary succession: Red elderberry is a pioneer species on the islands of Barkley Sound, British Columbia, where northwestern crows disperse red elderberry seeds along the rocky shorelines. In this environment, red elderberry shrubs tended to associate mostly with other red elderberries. Of 6 fleshy-fruited shrubs, red elderberry was the only species where abundance was negatively associated with presence of other shrub species (P=0.001) . Red elderberry joins seral thicket formations in rockshore succession on the islands of Lake Michigan, probably establishing from bird-dispersed seed. Due to edaphic conditions on the Gull Islands and other small, rocky islands of Lake Michigan, most shrub thickets do not succeed to climax jack pine-black spruce (Pinus banksiana-Picea mariana) forest, although this occurs on larger islands such as Isle Royale .
Cooper [54,55] found red elderberry in the understories of willow-Sitka alder (Salix spp.-Alnus viridis subsp. sinuata) communities  and young Sitka spruce stands  in fjords of Glacier Bay, Alaska. In postglacial succession there, plant community development generally proceeds from mixed shrub/herb/moss to willow-Sitka alder, young Sitka spruce forest, and mature Sitka spruce-western hemlock forest communities .
Secondary succession: Red elderberry is most common in early seral communities but may occur in all stages of succession. For example, red elderberry is typically present in "large numbers" in seral pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) stands, which are usually maintained by frequent fire . Several experts list red elderberry as a pioneer in second-growth Sitka spruce-western hemlock forests of southeastern Alaska (review by ). In a mixed conifer-hardwood community at the Harvard Forest of Massachusetts, red elderberry frequency on permanent plots was greatest (15%) 10 years after a hurricane. It was not found on plots 1 year before, 2 years after, or 53 years after the hurricane .
Seral occurrence: Rocky Mountain elderberry is a common understory component of red alder shrublands, which are usually seral to Douglas-fir and/or Sitka spruce [89,114]. Franklin and Dyrness  report a "strong tendency" for development of dense, pure red elderberry or mixed red alder-red elderberry shrubfields after fire or logging in the Sitka spruce zone of Oregon and Washington. Red elderberry replaces red alder successionally on some sites. On the Central Coast Range of Oregon, red elderberry established and persisted in red alder stands, releasing when the red alder became senescent . In an inventory of plant community composition in different stages of floodplain succession on Vancouver Island, red elderberry was present in the young seral stage, which was dominated by red alder. It was absent from new gravel bars and mature Sitka spruce forest . However, in a chronosequence study of a red alder/salmonberry community in western Oregon, red elderberry cover and frequency were variable across 51 years of succession. Red elderberry was absent from stands less than 4 years old; highest red elderberry coverage (11%) and frequency (26%) was in 49-year-old stands . In 1979, Thilenius  found red elderberry in seral red alder communities on the Copper River Delta. The area had been uplifted by the 1964 earthquake and was changing successionally from herbland to shrubland .
On the Wasatch Plateau of central Utah, red elderberry was one of several woody species pioneering on depleted mountain meadow rangelands that had been subject to severe flooding after decades of overgrazing by livestock .
Logging: Tree harvest may favor red elderberry growth by opening the canopy, although red elderberry abundance may not increase substantially after logging (for example, ). Red elderberry may sprout and/or colonize from seed after tree harvest . In a sugar maple-American beech-yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) forest on the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, red elderberry was more frequent on logged sites for at least 3 years after logging (4.9% frequency) than on adjacent unlogged forest (<1% frequency) . In a subalpine fir/queencup beadlily (Abies lasiocarpa/Clintonia uniflora) habitat type in northwestern Montana, red elderberry cover was higher on logged plots (x=60%) than on old-growth plots (x=23.5%) . It was an early-seral species in cutover grand fir habitat types of central Idaho  and in second-growth, logged hardwood forests of Michigan . Clearcutting or clearcutting followed by slash burning apparently had no effect on red elderberry abundance in western hemlock/Oregon boxwood forests of northern Idaho. Red elderberry was absent or had less than 3% cover on unlogged sites, and red elderberry cover did not increase after logging or logging and burning .
Logging method can affect the rate of red elderberry recovery after tree harvest, although trends in red elderberry response to different logging methods are not well studied. On the Fort Lewis Military Reservation, Washington, red elderberry was not present on Douglas-fir sites that had been harvested in the 1930s and then left unmanaged for 70 years, but red elderberry had 22.5% frequency and 2.2% cover on nearby, thrice-thinned Douglas-fir sites, showing a significant difference between sites (P<0.001). Red elderberry was considered an indicator of cutover or disturbed sites . Heavy logging may favor red elderberry on some sites. Red elderberry attained a density of 25 stems/ha 20 years after clearcutting in a balsam fir-yellow birch forest in eastern Quebec  and was among the 10 most common shrubs after clearcutting in a red fir (A. magnifica var. magnifica) forest in California . In a sugar maple-yellow birch forest in Upper Michigan, the mean importance value of red elderberry 2 years after logging was greater in clearcuts than in group selection or unlogged sites. Fifty years after treatment, however, red elderberry was more important in group selection cuts than on clearcuts. The 50-year importance value on unlogged sites was not calculated due to a blowdown on that site 26 years after treatments .
Logging sometimes reduces red elderberry abundance. Thinning to remove small-diameter trees in a Sitka spruce-western hemlock forest in west-central Oregon resulted in loss of red elderberry plants. Although present before thinning, red elderberry was absent from study plots 17 years later . It was negatively associated with logged black spruce forests of northeastern Ontario .
Late succession: Red elderberry may be present in the understory of mature or climax forests. It was a component of the shrub layer in a climax mixed-hardwood forest in the Black Mountains of North Carolina  and was listed as one of the most common species in mature white spruce (Picea glauca) forests of interior British Columbia . Since red elderberry is only moderately shade tolerant [144,150], gap succession helps maintain red elderberry in late stages of forest succession.
Gap succession: Red elderberry commonly establishes in canopy gaps within mature forests. It grew in openings after woolly adelgid attacks on mature balsam firs (Abies balsamifera) in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. Red elderberry attained sapling size within 7 to 15 years after the attacks . On the Hemlock Hill Biological Research Station in Pennsylvania, red elderberry established from bird-dispersed seeds in gaps within a mixed-hardwood forest. Scarlet tanagers were the primary seed dispersers . In southeastern Alaska, red elderberry seedlings established in windthrow gaps in an old-growth western hemlock forest . In northern Utah, the typical variety of red elderberry was most abundant in canopy openings but also grew beneath quaking aspen canopies .
Seedling establishment and plant growth
Red elderberry seedlings establish best on open, disturbed sites . They do not establish well beneath parent plants (Newton 1984, personal communication cited in ) or closed forests. In an Upper Michigan study comparing seed bank and seedling populations in forest gaps and closed-canopy sugar maple-eastern hemlock forest, red elderberry seedlings were present in low numbers in forest gaps but did not occur in closed stands. In the greenhouse, significantly more red elderberry germinants emerged from soil collected in gaps compared to soil beneath mature forest . See Gap succession for more information on the importance of gaps to red elderberry.
|Mean frequency and density of red elderberry seedlings and germinants emerging from the seed bank in Upper Michigan |
|Age class||Frequency (%)||Density (stems/0.01 ha)|
|Seedlings||2.2||not present||3.30||not present|
|Germinants from seed bank||44.4||30.0||93.9*||45.3|
|*Significant difference between gap and forest plots (P<0.001).|
Red elderberry sprouts typically grow faster than seedlings, with sprout growth rates of 10 to 15 feet (3-4.5 m) in their first year (Newton 1984, personal communication cited in ). Rhizome sprouts may flower in their 2nd year . Red elderberry seedlings may grow rapidly on favorable sites, however. Seedlings have produced a full crown and reached 10 feet (3 m) tall in 3 to 4 years on sites in the Intermountain West . On the Oregon coast, 4-year-old red elderberry seedlings were 1 to 3 feet (0.3-0.9 m) tall . Seedlings in the greenhouse have produced rhizomes by age 3 .
Red elderberry seeds are dormant (, review by , Pelton 1956, cited in ). Embryological dormancy [20,29,120] and a hard seedcoat maintain seed dormancy [20,29]. Fire, the digestive acids of frugivorous animals, or stratification can break dormancy. Seedcoat damage from fire or digestion may speed up and/or increase germination rates. Heat from fire can break dormancy by cracking the hard seedcoat [25,26,208]. An Alaskan experiment found that red elderberry seeds showed faster and higher germination rates after passage through the digestive tracks of passerines or American black bears (P=0.0001). Animal species influenced 31% of red elderberry seeds ingested by varied thrushes germinated, while only 19% of seeds ingested by American robins and 14% of seeds ingested by American black bears germinated . In the laboratory, damaging the seedcoat by clipping or acid bath, warm stratification, cold stratification, and warm stratification followed by cold stratification have broken dormancy [20,29,120,245]. A laboratory experiment by Hidayati and others [119,120] found that red elderberry seeds did not require treatments that damaged the seedcoats to imbibe water. A greenhouse study found light improved germination rates of seeds given warm stratification followed by cold stratification (P=0.05). In an unheated greenhouse, germination rate of fresh red elderberry seed was nearly 100% after overwintering . A wide range of germination (6-100%) is reported for red elderberry in laboratory experiments [20,102]. Red elderberry may require 2 years to complete germination in the field . Open, disturbed soil provides a favorable seedbed. Red elderberry establishment is also reported on decayed wood .
See IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT for further information on the possible effects of fire to red elderberry seed.
Red elderberry has a litter  and soil [4,25,104,107,140,145] seed bank. Fallen logs may also be a seedbed for red elderberry . Red elderberry is often strongly represented in the soil seed bank. Behind red alder, seeds of red elderberry were the second most common in soils beneath a red alder community in British Columbia. Viable red elderberry seeds were distributed in the top 4 inches (10 cm) of soil . Red elderberry seeds were "especially common" (frequency of at least 50%) in the soil seed banks of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and grand fir forests on the Payette and Boise National Forests of Idaho. Density varied from 0 to 210 red elderberry seeds/mÂ². Seeds were found mostly in upper soil layers (≤0.4 inch (5 cm) deep), although a few seeds were found at depths to 17 inches (43 cm). In the greenhouse, mean germination of the soil-stored seed was 16% . A study of the seed bank beneath an eastern hemlock forest in New York found red elderberry was 1 of only 4 woody species with viable seeds in the soil; all other seeds were from herbaceous species .
In a greenhouse experiment using soil collected from different-aged, mixed-hardwood stands on the White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, red elderberry showed variable density in the soil seed bank . Density of viable seed was apparently not tied to stand age:
|Density of red elderberry germinants in forest floor samples from mixed-hardwood stands in New Hampshire |
Red elderberry's representation in the soil seed bank varied in 2 studies comparing logged and unlogged sites. In coastal British Columbia, red elderberry seed was present in soil samples from an unlogged, old-growth western redcedar (Thuja plicata)-western hemlock forest but not in samples from an adjacent logged forest . However, a field study using potted plants on the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, had opposite results. No red elderberry germinants emerged from soil collected from an unlogged sugar maple-American beech-yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) forest, but red elderberry density was 9.2 germinants/mÂ² in soil collected from an adjacent logged forest .
Red elderberry is represented only in the seed bank on some sites. In a balsam fir (A. balsamifera) forest type in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Michigan, red elderberry was present in the seed bank at a mean density of 484,000 seeds/ha but was not present in aboveground vegetation. Spruce budworms had killed most of the overstory trees . A study on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington had similar findings: red elderberry plants were not present in a closed-canopy Douglas-fir-western hemlock forest, but in the greenhouse, red elderberry germinants emerged from litter and soil samples collected in the forest .
Frugivorous birds and mammals disperse red elderberry seeds [35,81,102,120,150,219]. Plant location influences the likelihood of animal frugivory and seed dispersal. In British Columbia, passerine birds deposited significantly more red elderberry seeds in the understory of a Sitka spruce-hemlock forest than at forest edges (P<0.01) . In Wisconsin, frugivorous birds selected significantly more red elderberry fruits from isolated plants than from clustered plants. Large fruit size, heavy fruit production, and fruit sweetness increased the probability of fruit selection and seed dispersal for individual plants (P<0.01 for all measures) .
Water- and/or gravity-dispersed seed may be unimportant to red elderberry establishment. In a study using seed from a mixed-hardwood community by Little Otter Creek in Vermont, 100% of red elderberry germinants emerging in the greenhouse came from soil samples; no red elderberry germinants emerged from floodplain debris samples or seed rain traps .
Flower, fruit, and seed production
Red elderberry usually produces a good seed crop every year [102,179]. On the Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia, 70% to 80% of red elderberry plants bore fruit in 4 consecutive years . In northern Utah, 40% of aerial red elderberry stems produced flowers. The number of flowers/inflorescence ranged from 100 to 400, with 60% to 90% of flowers producing fruit. Approximately 30% of seeds were unfilled; filled seeds were 74% to 91% viable in the laboratory . On a study on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, only 2 of 52 red elderberry shrubs failed to produce flowers and fruit. Production by the remaining 50 shrubs was :
|Mean (and range) of reproductive and growth characteristics for red elderberries in Washington |
|Number of flowers/stem||Shrub age||Basal diameter (cm)||Height (m)||Number of stems/shrub|
|1,0875 (144-17,064)||6 (2-13)||3.4 (1.1-9.4)||3.2 (1.5-5.8)||3 (1-7)|
Flower and fruit abundance was positively associated with plant DBH and canopy gaps and negatively associated with overstory density (P=0.05). Red elderberries with greatest fruit production were found in canopy gaps more frequently than under canopies .
Closed canopies or browsing can reduce red elderberry flower and fruit production. A study of fleshy-fruited wildlife shrubs on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska showed canopy cover significantly decreased red elderberry fruit production (P=0.01) . On the Ottawa National Forest, Michigan, white-tailed deer browsing significantly reduced the number of flowers and fruits on red elderberries (P<0.05) . In a Sitka spruce-western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) forest in Olympic National Park, Washington, cover of red elderberry and other shrub species was significantly greater inside than outside elk and mule deer exclosures (P<0.05). Refugia patches that were inaccessible to ungulates, such as exposed root mats of large, fallen conifers and areas behind stacks of fallen logs, allowed red elderberry to bear flowers and/or fruit. Red elderberries in other areas were browsed too heavily to have "appreciable" flower and fruit production .
Red elderberry sprouts from the root crown and/or rhizomes after top-kill ([28,52], reviews by [25,26,102,245]). It also layers [94,245]. Sprouting is generally the most common method of red elderberry regeneration, although seedling establishment allows for colonization in new areas . Red elderberry seedlings were rarely observed, for example, over 3- to 5-year periods in quaking aspen forest-shrubland mosaics of northern Utah, although red elderberry clones were abundant in the area .
- Vegetative regeneration
- Pollination and breeding system
- Flower, fruit, and seed production
- Seed dispersal
- Seed banking
- Seedling establishment and plant growth
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the terms: geophyte, phanerophyte
Raunkiaer  life form:
Geophyte (applies only to rhizomatous populations)
Fire Regime Table
Life History and Behavior
More info for the terms: phenology, rhizome, root crown, tree
Animals disperse red elderberry seeds in late summer or fall. The seeds typically germinate in spring after overwintering , although seeds dispersed or sown in late fall may not emerge until their second spring . In an unheated greenhouse, red elderberry seeds sown in August mostly emerged the next springfrom 21 to 28 Marchalthough a few seeds germinated that fall, in late October and early November . In cold climates, red elderberry plants die back to the root crown in winter [72,179]. Red elderberry begins vegetative growth early in the growing season. In the Rocky Mountains, red elderberry initiates stem bud growth while snow is still on the ground, with stem elongation completed 3 to 4 weeks after snowmelt . In a sugar maple forest in Ontario, red elderberry leafed out in early spring before associated tree species . Red elderberries also begin flowering relatively early in spring, when their leaves are unfolding . Red elderberry is an early-fruiting tree relative to most associated woody species [36,71]. Fruits ripen from early (Bailey 1906, cited in ) to late  summer, depending on location. Fruits within panicles, on the same tree, and within populations tend to ripen synchronously [70,71].
Red elderberry phenology by state or region. Information pertains to the species unless a variety is specified.
|Alaska||flowers May-July; fruits July-August |
|Arizona||typical variety flowers June-July; Rocky Mountain red elderberry flowers May-July |
|Carolinas||flowers late April-early June; fruits late June-August |
|Colorado||Rocky Mountain elderberry flowers through late spring |
|Idaho, northern||May-July |
|Illinois||flowers June-July |
|Michigan||flowers in spring; fruits in early to late summer |
|Nevada||flowers May-June |
|Ohio||flowers in May; fruits June-November |
|western Oregon||fruits late June-mid-August |
|Pennsylvania||fruits late June-early July |
|Utah, Wasatch Mountains||seeds germinate March-early April; rhizome buds of mature plants expand late May-early June beneath snow; rhizome sprouts emerge at snowmelt (~10 June); flowers emerge mid-June-early July; fruits green ~7 July; fruits and seeds mature late July-mid-August |
|Wisconsin||fruits ripens mid-July [70,71]|
|Washington||flowers April-July; seeds disperse June-July |
|West Virginia||flowers April-May; fruits June-August |
|Monongahela National Forest||fruits 12 September-5 October |
|Adirondack Mountains||flowers in bud 4-5 May; flowers 17 May-2 June; fruits 13 July-8 August |
|Blue Ridge Mountains||April-June |
|Intermountain West||flowers June-July |
|Great Plains||flowers May-June |
|Northeast||flowers April-May ; fruits June-November [81,217,245]|
|Pacific Northwest||typical variety: flowers March-July ; fruits June-September [102,199]; ripening may extend to December with mild winters |
|Rocky Mountain elderberry: flowers May-June; fruits June-September [102,121,199], but ripening may extend to December with mild winters |
|British Columbia||flowers in May; fully leafed out in mid-June; fruits in June |
|Vancouver Island||fruits 9 July-18 August |
|Nova Scotia||flowers 1-20 June |
|Ontario||flowers May-June; fruits in midsummer |
|Great Lakes-St Lawrence region||leafs out 6-28 April; roots expand early spring-early summer; flowers in late spring; leaves senesce in late fall; roots senesce from late summer-early fall |
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Sambucus racemosa
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sambucus racemosa
Public Records: 7
Specimens with Barcodes: 39
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Widespread in North America along streambanks, and in moist habitats from foothills to 3200 feet.
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Pests and potential problems
Viral cankers can girdle and kill the stems. Bacterial and fungal leaf spots, powdery mildew and cane borers are usually not serious.
white-tailed deer populations are high .
Red elderberry is a bioindicator of ozone pollution. It progresses from leaf stippling to
bleaching with increasing exposure to ozone [40,168].
Since red elderberry is a valuable and somewhat rare wildlife plant, control
is probably not needed on most sites. Worley and Nixon  stated that red
elderberry "seldom needs to be killed" for
wildlife management purposes. Red elderberry does not
greatly interfere with conifer seedling growth on most sites, although it is sometimes sprayed
along with more common species, such as salmonberry, that are weedy on plantations. If chemical control of
red elderberry is desired, its early leaf-out (see Seasonal development)
allows for spraying early in the growing season, when conifers
are less susceptible to herbicide damage . Spring application of triclopyr or winter application of glyphosate
caused very severe damage (90-100% dieback) to red elderberry in shrubfields in Oregon and
northern Idaho .
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
Red elderberry is routinely available in containers or bare-root from west coast native plant nurseries. ‘Plumosa Aurea’ is an ornamental cultivar with cut leaves and yellow foliage.
Red elderberry spreads slowly either by seed or by root sprouting. In moist forests of the Pacific Northwest this species (var. racemosa) can inhibit tree regeneration following fire, but it is not considered a primary competitor. Although little effect has been discerned in the field, plants may have some allelopathic potential as they inhibited germination and growth of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and other species under experimental conditions.
Nursery plantings of red elderberry can be as dense as 700 plants per acre in soil at least 24 in. deep. Consider supplemental irrigation during establishment year or years with low rainfall. Red elderberry will re-sprout from both roots and the seed bank following fire. Severe pruning will prevent a spindly growth habit in ornamental applications.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Red elderberry is used in revegetation, erosion control, and wildlife plantings [43,91,120,128,179,193]. It may be relatively tolerant of heavy metal contamination; red elderberry was among a few relict shrub species present on acidic copper and nickel mining and smelting sites in Ontario .
Red elderberry is easily started from cuttings and is often grown from seed. See these sources for propagation information: [29,74,115,123,179,245]. Commercial sources of red elderberry are available .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Wildlife: Numerous frugivorous birds eat red elderberry fruits [35,70,101,120,170,219,236]. In the Northeast, at least 50 passerine and 6 game bird species consume the fruits . Red elderberry fruits are also important in the diets of game and nongame birds in the West. An Idaho study found red elderberry fruits were a major summer diet item of blue grouse in Douglas-fir habitats . A study across western Oregon found red elderberry fruits were the main summer diet item of band-tailed pigeons .
Mammals, including eastern fox squirrels, white-footed mice , other rodents , northern raccoons , American black bears [228,245], brown bears [220,228], and grizzly bears [10,39,64,105], also consume red elderberry fruits. Additionally, grizzly bears consume red elderberry foliage and roots [10,39].
Browsing ungulates consume red elderberry foliage [148,151,169,170,245], although red elderberry browse is not preferred on all sites. The browse contains cyanide , which is bitter, so red elderberry use may be light in areas where more palatable forage is available [122,127]. Use may be heavy, however, in areas with large white-tailed deer populations [8,245]. In winter, browsing ungulates consume red elderberry bark and buds ; although even then, browsing may be light if other shrubs are available . Red elderberry provided minor winter forage for moose on Isle Royale, Michigan  and was not preferred as summer browse . In contrast, by the Flathead River of Montana red elderberry was "easily the most palatable browse species on the range". Red elderberry was not abundant, and with 70% utilization by elk, it was apparently in decline . Studies in coastal Alaska and the West coast found Roosevelt elk consumption of red elderberry peaked in fall (16% of total diet) and was least in spring (1% of diet) (review by ).
Various fly species consume red elderberry pollen . Red elderberry and Mexican elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) are obligate hosts  of the federally threatened  valley elderberry longhorn beetle, which is endemic to the Central Valley of California .
Livestock: Domestic goats, sheep, and cattle browse red elderberry, most often in summer. Livestock generally prefer browsing the typical variety of red elderberry over other Sambucus taxa. Range cattle and domestic sheep on the Uinta National Forest, Utah, browsed red elderberry from late August to early September. Cattle utilization ranged from 40% to 70%; domestic sheep utilization ranged from 80% to 90% .
Palatability: Red elderberry browse is generally palatable to elk, deer, mountain goats, and bears . Palatability of red elderberry browse increases after frost  and probably varies with relative cyanide content of individual plants. For deer, ratings for red elderberry browse range from moderately  to highly palatable . Red elderberry was moderately palatable to white-tailed deer in a Wisconsin feeding trial . A 4-year study in Washington found red elderberry made up 1% of the mule deer diet; most stomach samples were collected in October . Sampson and Jesperson  reported mule deer in California consuming red elderberry foliage "with considerable relish".
Palatability of red elderberry for livestock ranges from poor to good . In California, red elderberry is rated as moderately to highly palatable to domestic sheep and goats, fairly palatable to cattle, and unpalatable to horses . Rocky Mountain elderberry is rated unpalatable to moderately palatable to cattle and palatable to domestic sheep .
Nutritional value: Although not preferred, red elderberry browse is highly nutritious. Analysis of summer browse species on Isle Royale found red elderberry had the highest mean nutrient value (crude protein + mineral content) of 28 species. However, moose browsed it in only trace amounts, less than predicted based on its nutritional content (P<0.05). The authors suggested that toxic levels of cyanide in the red elderberry browse limited moose selection . See Einarsen  for seasonal variation in protein content of red elderberry browse. His samples were collected 6 years after one of the reburns on Tillamook Burn in Oregon .
Red elderberry fruits are high in carbohydrates [189,235], fat , and magnesium relative to most associated, fleshy-fruited shrubs of the Pacific Northwest. Norton and others  provide nutritional analyses of the fleshy fruits of red elderberry and other shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. See Usui and others  for nutritional contents of red elderberry fruits from northern Ontario.
Cover value: Red elderberries provide wildlife habitat and cover. Seral shrubfields with a red elderberry component are important grizzly bear habitat [10,15]. Sitka alder-Rocky Mountain elderberry shrubfields in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of Idaho and Montana, where grizzly bears were extirpated as of 2008, have been identified as good potential grizzly bear habitat . Passerines and other birds use red elderberry for nesting [102,179] and perching [120,179]. Red elderberries on streambanks provide shade cover for fish .
Other uses and values
Red elderberry fruits are used to make pies, jelly, and wine [7,80,236]. The fruits contain anthocyanins [14,188], which have antioxidant properties [14,188]. The fruits are sour, however, and people do not usually eat them raw [116,141,150]. The fruits and/or seeds may cause diarrhea and vomiting in humans [116,126,236], especially if the fruits are not fully ripe. Other parts of the plant may be poisonous to humans year-round .
Native Americans used red elderberry fruits as food [42,80,198,230,250] and extracts from the roots and/or bark as an emetic or purgative ([80,198,230,231], review by ) and to treat colds [134,198]. Native Americans also used bark extracts as a gynecological medicine and to treat influenza, fever, and tuberculosis [134,231]. The stems were used to make toys. The Dena'ina made popguns from the hollow stems, using a shelf fungus (Polyporus betulinus) for ammunition . The Kwakiutl of British Columbia made toy blowguns from red elderberry stems .
Red elderberry is planted as an ornamental .
Extracts from red elderberry roots exhibited antiviral activity against bovine respiratory virus in the laboratory .
The dense roots and rhizomes of red elderberry make it useful for soil stabilization and erosion control on moist sites including streambanks. It provides fair to good food and cover for birds plus small and large mammals. Hummingbirds collect nectar from the flowers. With fair energy and low protein values, this variety is rated fair to good as browse for livestock and game animals. The fruit is high in ascorbic acid. Stems, bark, leaves and roots contain cyanide-producing toxins but berries may be consumed as jelly or wine after cooking. This versatile plant can also be used to make dye, insecticide, medicine, and musical instruments. The colorful fruit attracts birds and several cultivars have been developed for ornamental applications.
This often treelike shrub grows 2 to 6 meters tall. The stems are soft with a pithy center. Each individual leaf is composed of 5 to 7 leaflike leaflets, each of which is up to 16 centimeters long, lance-shaped to narrowly oval, and irregularly serrated along the edges. The leaflets have a strong disagreeable odor when crushed. The inflorescence is a vaguely cone-shaped panicle of several cymes of flowers blooming from the ends of stem branches. The flower buds are pink when closed, and the open flowers are white, cream, or yellowish. Each flower has small, recurved petals and a star-shaped axis of five white stamens tipped in yellow anthers. The flowers are fragrant and visited by hummingbirds and butterflies. The fruit is a bright red or sometimes purple drupe containing 3 to 5 seeds.
Distribution and habitat
The fruits are popular with birds, who distribute the seeds.
- Sambucus racemosa was originally described and published in Species plantarum 1:270. 1753. GRIN (October 9, 2003). "Sambucus racemosa information from NPGS/GRIN". Taxonomy for Plants. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland: USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
- Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of North Carolina: Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa var. pubens)
- "BSBI List 2007" (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original on 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- NPIN Database
- Pojar, J. & A. MacKinnon. (1994). Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Lone Pine Publishing. ISBN 1-55105-042-0
- "RHS Plant Selector - Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold'". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: As treated by Kartesz (1994), Sambucus racemosa is considered a wide-ranging species of both Eurasia (ssp. racemosa) and North America (ssp. pubens). Kartesz (1999) still treats S. racemosa as a whole the same way but now considers most North American material indistinct from the Eurasian (Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa) with only some material of western North America treated as distinct at the varietal level as S. racemosa var. melanocarpa. That treatment is followed here. In other treatments, the North American populations have been considered distinct from the Eurasian, and various taxa have been recognized within the North American group, e.g., S. racemosa ssp. pubens var. arborescens, S. racemosa ssp. pubens var. microbotrys (S. microbotrys of some floras), S. racemosa ssp. pubens var. arborescens (S. callicarpa of some floras).
There are 2 North American varieties:
Sambucus racemosa L. var. racemosa, typical variety of red elderberry 
Sambucus racemosa L. var. melanocarpa (A. Gray) McMinn [57,81,121,135,151,240], Rocky Mountain elderberry
In this review, "red elderberry" refers to the species. Varieties are referred
to as either the "typical variety" or "Rocky Mountain elderberry".
Natural hybridization between red elderberry and other Sambucus species is apparently
rare . Degree of hybridization between red elderberry varieties was not described in the
literature as of 2008.
Sambucus melanocarpa A. Gray [137,186]
forSambucus racemosa L. var. racemosa:
Sambucus callicarpa Greene 
Sambucus microbotrys Rydb. [121,137,186,239]
Sambucus pubens Michx. [81,194,218]
Sambucus pubens Michx. var. arborescens Torr. & A. Gray [204,244]
Sambucus racemosa L. var. arborescens (Torr. & A. Gray) A. Gray 
Sambucus racemosa L. var. leucocarpa (Torr. & A. Gray) Cronquist
Sambucus racemosa L. var. laciniata W.D.J. Koch ex DC.
Sambucus racemosa L. var. microbotrys (Rydb.) Kearney & Peebles [57,118,137,240]
Sambucus racemosa L. var. pubens (Michx.) Koehne [95,121]
Sambucus racemosa L. subsp. pubens (Michx.) House [98,126,178,209]
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