E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Sambucus racemosa L.
red elderberry (black elder (var. melanocarpa); black elderberry; coastal red elder (var. arborescens); coastal red elderberry; eastern red elder (var. leucocarpa); eastern red elderberry)
Adoxaceae (Honeysuckle family)
(Previously in Caprifoliaceae)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© David Shackleton  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #87121)

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Distribution of Sambucus racemosa
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Species Information

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Deciduous, erect, large shrub, 1-6 m tall; twigs thick, soft, pithy, usually somewhat glaucous; bark dark reddish-brown, warty.
Opposite, stalked, large, compound, pinnately divided into 5-7 elliptic to lanceolate leaflets, often asymmetric at the base, abruptly sharp-pointed at the tip, saw-toothed on the margins, and usually somewhat hairy beneath.
Inflorescence of numerous, small flowers in a 4-10 cm long, egg-shaped to conical cluster with short lateral branches on a stronger central axis; corollas white or cream, wheel-shaped; petals fused at base into a short flat tube that spreads (3-6 mm across) at the top to 5 lobes, the lobes longer than the tubes and becoming reflexed.
Berrylike, globose, 5-6 mm across, shiny red or purplish-black, occasionally brown, yellow, or whitish, but not glaucous, with 3 small, smooth to wrinkled or pebbled stones, each enclosing a seed.
Three varieties of this North American subspecies occur in BC. Fruits black or purplish-black; nutlets slightly wrinkled or pebbly var. melanocarpa (A. Gray) McMinn. Fruits bright red (sometimes yellow or white); nutlets mostly smooth or slightly wrinkled or pebbly. Nutlets mostly smooth; plants 2-6 m tall var. arborescens (T.& G.) A. Gray. Nutlets slightly wrinkled or pebbly; plants 0.5-3 m tall

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Habitat / Range

Moist to mesic meadows, ditches, streambanks, grasslands, shrublands, disturbed areas and forests in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; var. ar­borescens is common in and W of the Coast-Cascade Mountains, var. melanocarpa is common E of the Coast-­Cascade Mountains and less frequent to the W of them, var. leucocarpa is infrequent in SC and SE BC; var. arborescens – N to AK and YT and S to CA; var. melanocarpa – E to AB and S to NM, AZ, NV and N CA; var. leucocarpa – E to PQ and NB and S to TN and GA.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Ecological Framework for Sambucus racemosa

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 0 768 2245
Slope Gradient (%) 0 19 125
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
0 0 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
0 4 8
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: AT(4), BG(2), BWBS(4), CDF(84), CMA(1), CWH(957), ESSF(584), ICH(468), IDF(50), IMA(1), MH(26), MS(75), PP(2), SBPS(2), SBS(364)

Ecological Indicator Information

A shade-tolerant to shade-tolerant/intolerant, sub montane to subalpine, circumpolar deciduous shrub (transcontinental in North America). Occurs on fresh to very moist, nitrogen-rich soils within boreal, temperate, and cool mesothermal climates; its occurrence decreases with increasing elevation. Scattered to plentiful in open-canopy forests on water-receiving sites. Indicative of rapid decomposition of forest floor materials (originally Mor humus forms) remaining on cutover or fire-disturbed, water-shedding sites. Usually associated with Alnus rubra, Athyrium filix-femina, Epilobium angustifolium, Rubus parviflorus, and R. spectabilis. A nitrophytic species characteristic of Moder and Mull humus forms.

SourceIndicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia (Information applies to coastal locations only)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is not evaluated, unknown or variable.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Sambucus racemosa var. laciniata W. D. J. Koch ex DC.

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References