Red Elderberry: Wildflower Wednesday

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, The Secret Garden

I‘ve lived here over five years now, but just when I think I’ve seen all the plants that grow wild here, another one catches my attention and arouses my curiosity.

red elderberry flowers

Earlier this month, I saw this flower out of the corner of my eye, and walked over to identify it.

red elderberry leaves

The compound leaves had five toothed leaflets.

Several people suggested it was baneberry, and baneberry does bloom around the same time, with a similarly shaped flower. Only one problem.

red elderberry woody stem

Baneberry is herbaceous, and the flowers were blooming on a woody plant.

Hmm, what could it be? The leaves kind of looked like elderberry to me, but the elderberry I’m familiar with, the American black elderberry (Sambucus canadensis),

common elderberry flower

has flat topped flower clusters that look like this, and they bloom in early July, not early May.

It turns out it is an elderberry, Sambucus racemosa, which has red berries, giving it the common name red elderberry. I neglected to smell the flowers, but once source calls them malodorous and another calls them fragrant. The berries of black elderberry are definitely edible when cooked. (Click here for our pie recipe!) However, red elderberries are called flat-out poisonous in some sources and merely unpalatable in others. I don’t plan on sampling them, although many birds and small mammals eat them without harm.

So if you need a native shrub that blooms in early spring, around the same time as the trilliums, consider red elderberry–or one of its much flashier cultivars, such as Lemony Lace® Elderberry. I’m happy to have made its acquaintance, and I’ll be on the lookout for those red berries coming later.

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Tina Martino June 7, 2017, 4:42 am

Wow.. wildflower that blooms beautifully. Would love to have it on my garden too (

Barbara Phillips-Conroy May 30, 2017, 5:45 am

Remember seeing patches of this along the rail line when I was commuting to work. Always thought it was so pretty dotted against the scruffy landscape. Good piece on doing an i.d. Perhaps we should have a luncheon starting with some Elderberry wine and Bunny Pie – the little devils should be nice and chubby after eating 45 (that would be all of them) kale plants yesterday a.m. Three coyotes had been there last week on my front lawn, obviously looking for snack-a-bunnies – where were they last night?

Louise May 26, 2017, 9:25 pm

You can use the flowers to make an elderflower syup. And then use the lemon and lime in a marmalade. It’s a grest syrup to fight flu or colds.

Linda Starr May 25, 2017, 7:31 pm

next trip to the woods I’ll have to look for this plant.

Pat Webster May 25, 2017, 10:53 am

Informative post, Kathy. I’ve seen it growing but have never tried to identify it. Now I don’t need to!

Kathy May 25, 2017, 7:13 am

Oh my gosh, I have this growing in my garden. I acquired it from garden club and also mistakenly thought it was baneberry but then it grew much too tall for baneberry and was woody so I moved it out from beneath the pine tree to over by my new patio. It is lovely in bloom and the berries are beautiful. I called it European Elderberry but Red Elderberry it is!

Kathy Purdy May 25, 2017, 8:14 am

It’s native to both North America and Europe, and other continents besides, so you can call it either. There are various subspecies and I wonder if one of the subspecies has very finely cut foliage, because the ornamental varieties certainly do.

Lea May 25, 2017, 5:13 am

It is a pretty shrub, and if wildlife eat the berries, good!
Have a wonderful day!

Gail May 24, 2017, 10:11 pm

Kathy, That is a cool plant. So glad you figured out its identity. Happy WW!