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Sambucus racemosa facts for kids

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Sambucus racemosa
Sambucus racemosa 6261.JPG
Scientific classification

Sambucus racemosa is a species of elderberry known by the common names red elderberry and red-berried elder.

Distribution and habitat

It is native to Europe, northern temperate Asia, and North America across Canada and the United States. It grows in riparian environments, woodlands, and other habitats, generally in moist areas.


Sambucus racemosa is often a treelike shrub growing 2–6 m (7–20 ft) 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 cm (6.3 in) 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.

Varieties and subspecies


The stems, roots and foliage are poisonous, and the berries can be toxic or cause nausea if eaten raw.

Medicinal plant

It has been used as a traditional medicinal plant by Native Americans, including the Bella Coola, Carrier, Gitksan, Hesquiaht, Menominee, Northern Paiute, Ojibwa, Paiute, Potawatomi, Tlingit, and Haida peoples. The uses included as an emetic, antidiarrheal, cold and cough remedy, dermatological and gynecological aid, and a hemostat.


The fruits are reportedly safe to eat when cooked, but are potentially poisonous when raw. They were cooked in a variety of recipes by Native Americans, including by the Apache, Bella Coola, Gitxsan, Gosiute, Makah, Ojibwa, Quileute, Skokomish, Yurok peoples.

The fruits are popular with birds, who also distribute the seeds. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.


Sambucus racemosa is cultivated as an ornamental plant, for use as a shrub or small tree in traditional and wildlife gardens, and natural landscape design projects.


Cultivars in the nursery trade include:

  • Sambucus racemosa 'Black Lace' — burgundy foliage
  • Sambucus racemosa 'Lemon Lace' — golden yellow and green foliage
  • Sambucus racemosa 'Lemony Lace' — golden green foliage, with red new growth
  • Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold' — green foliage, with bronze new growth: it has received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

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