Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Red Elderberry - Sambucus racemosa   L.
Members of Viburnaceae:
Members of Sambucus with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Dipsacales » Family Viburnaceae
AuthorL.
DistributionOnly in the Mountains, found in nearly all counties and primarily at higher elevations (mostly over 4000 feet).

As with S. canadensis, this elderberry is also widespread across the country and across southern Canada. It ranges south to PA, OH, and IA in the East, and throughout the Western states. In the East, it ranges south only in the Appalachians to far northern GA.
AbundanceGenerally fairly common above 5000 feet, but scarce to uncommon from about 4000 to 5000 feet; rare below 4000 feet.
HabitatThis is one of the most frequent of the hardwood species – along with American Mountain-ash (Sorbus americana) and Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) – on the higher mountaintops. It favors spruce-fir forests, northern hardwoods, openings around outcrops, and edges of balds. It is often found on talus slopes or in boulderfields.
See also Habitat Account for General High Elevation Forests
PhenologyBlooms from late April to early June, and fruits from late June to August.
IdentificationThis is a moderate-sized deciduous shrub growing up to 8-10’ tall. It has about 5-7 opposite leaflets, each being strongly serrate and lanceolate to elliptic, with long pointed tips; leaflets average 3-4” long. It averages fewer leaflets than S. canadensis, but the latter species does not grow in high elevation uplands and rocky places. Also, the inflorescence is different, with S. racemose having a conical shape of small white flowers, as opposed to a slightly rounded (convex) cluster. This species can be confused with American Mountain-ash, but that species has more leaflets (11-17) and has leaves that are alternate on the stems. (Both do have red berries in clusters.)
Taxonomic CommentsUntil fairly recently, most authorities had the species named as Sambucus pubens. However, recent references consider this taxon as conspecific with the Eurasian form(s), but as a separate variety. Thus, the taxon in our country becomes S. racemosa var. pubens.

Other Common Name(s)Red-berried Elder, Red Elder
State RankS3
Global RankG5
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