Red-Berried Elder

Red-Berried Elder (Sambucus pubens)


Although easily confused with common elder, the red-berried elder has much larger buds and stouter twigs. It tends to be somewhat taller and stockier, growing up to 12 feet (3.7 m) high. Small, creamy flowers give way to cone-shaped clusters of small scarlet berries in June and July. Fruit is thought to be poisonous. Bark is light brown and covered with what appear to be warts. Buds are opposite and the largest of all our native shrubs.


Growing Conditions:

This elder thrives on fairly dry sites and is very intolerant of flooding. It is common along the edges of newly bulldozed forest roads or the sunnier edges of woodlands. Red-berried elder tolerates some shade but achieves best growth and fruit production in full sun.


Can be grown from cuttings, using the same methods as described for the common elder. Because it is quite common along forest roads, large numbers of young plants can often be transplanted. This can be difficult because of the deep, fibrous roots, but with some care and top pruning they survive quite well. Again, growing from seed is fairly easy due to the large numbers of seed produced. Collect when scarlet in July and early August. Germination will take place after the second spring and percentages can be low. Plant seeds 1/2 inch (13 mm) apart. Since the seeds are so easy to collect, try planting some at several different stages of ripeness, before they turn dark scarlet. This may speed up germination significantly and give you a higher success rate.

Wildlife Uses:

Berries are a preferred food of ruffed grouse, American robin, Swainson’s thrush, veery, cedar waxwing and rose-breasted grosbeak. Red-berried elder is also extensively used by many other birds for both food and cover. Red squirrel, chipmunk, skunk, raccoon, snowshoe hare and red fox also eat the berries. Red-berried elder often grows near fox dens, providing cover and food. In winter, ruffed grouse feed on the buds and snowshoe hare browse the twigs.

Areas of Usage:

As described earlier, it makes an excellent companion in plantings of common elder around the home. Flocks of cedar waxwings often arrive to devour the entire seed crop and it is worth planting red-berried elders just to attract these birds to your home. This plant is well suited to windbreaks and forest edges. On drier sites, red-berried elder is a better choice than common elder. It is sensitive to salt, so avoid planting it along shorelines and roadsides where salt spray occurs.

Additional Information:

The red-berried elder is also common throughout this province. It is a shrub from 2 to 12 feet high. The stem rise from the ground usually in clumps and extend to the top of the shrub. The branches are ascending and the crown is generally rounded in appearance. It is common in wet places, rocky hillsides, or along streams or brooks. It also occurs scattered among stands of sugar maple, yellow birch, beech and hemlock. The wood is of no commercial importance but the cream-white profusion of flowers and later the mass of brillant scarlet berries makes it an excellent shrub in ornamental planting. It is easily distinguished from the common elder by its scarlet berries and by its brownish pith.

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