Sambucus racemosa subsp. pubens var. arborescens

Douglas Justice took today’s Botany Photo of the Day in our David C. Lam Asian Garden. He also provided the associated entry.

Plants in the Adoxaceae (moschatel family) are commonly recognized by the peculiar, often rank emanation that their tissues produce. The full effect is best conjured by bruising or merely brushing by leaves or stems, although temperature and season seem to affect the strength of the aroma. Genera familiar to gardeners are Sambucus (elderberry) and Viburnum. B.C. natives include one species of viburnum, three elderberries, and the diminutive moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina). Both Sambucus and Viburnum were until recently classified in the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle family).

Red elderberry is an important early fruiting crop for local bird species. In May, the branch terminals produce pyramidal clusters of creamy white flowers that are quickly followed by glossy red berries (as seen here, photographed earlier this week from the Greenheart Canopy Walkway). Red elder is a common lowland species, tolerant of shade, winter flooding, and summer drought. The somewhat unmanageable scientific name is logical once parsed: Sambucus racemosa subsp. racemosa is the red elder of Europe (with flowers in racemes); S. racemosa subsp. pubens is the hairier-leafed North American version; and the tall or tree-like (i.e., arborescent) Pacific coastal variant is var. arborescens. The black-fruited variant found in the mountains of western North America is var. melanocarpa.

Sambucus recemosa
Sambucus racemosa Canopy Bridge

21 responses to “Sambucus racemosa subsp. pubens var. arborescens”

  1. Diane

    Cool-looking shrubs! Elderberries always make me think of Monty Python. And thanks for the heads-up re: the switch from Caprifoliaceae to Adoxaceae. It’s so hard to keep up.

  2. John Story

    This entry of the photo of the day is very good. The close-up shows the detail of the leaves and fruit and the long shot gives a good idea of the shape and size of the plant. Hope you can keep doing this!

  3. susan

    These Elderberries are looking especially beautiful this year – makes for happy birds!

  4. Rose

    Does anyone know if the blue/black friuted one in western north america (I’m from northern Idaho) is called Sambucus cerulea? Or has it changed to Sambucus racemosa subsp. pubens var. melanocarpa? Thanks for this post, I love elderberries, but not sure which sp. I’m seeing!

  5. Annie Morgan

    Do these make good pies, I wonder? The black ones are pretty scarce in Southern Ontario, mainly because they are chopped down at the roadside by the municipalities and county road people – my daughter knocks on doors when she sees elderberries in the garden or nearby fields – most people are happy to let her pick – her pies are to die for.

  6. Elizabeth Woll

    Just want to second John Story’s comment; having both the close up and long shot is a great idea.

  7. Stephanie

    The band-tailed pigeons love the red elderberries that are so prevalent in coastal northern California now, including my yard. It’s interesting to see these (relatively) large birds balance on the fragile branches to eat the fruit.
    Sambucus racemosa was one of the more easily remembered plant names when I began learning the scientific names of the plants in my yard. I read elewhere that: “The genus name Sambucus comes from the latin sambuke, which means a musical instrument. The hollow stems have been used for making simple flutes since ancient times.”
    Annie, I’m not aware of the red elderberries being used for pies or jams. They only look yummy.

  8. Stuart

    Elderberries make Diane think of Monty Python, but they make me think of wine. Back in the old days, elderberry wine and dandylion wine were favorites of amateur wine makers.

  9. Sherry

    I think I am in love!
    : )

  10. Cathy Hosek

    I think I saw one of these at the University of Chicago yesterday. Is this zone 5?

  11. Irma Palm

    A warning to all
    This is what the Swedish Poisons Information Centre says:
    The red seeds of grape elderberries Sambucus racemosa) can cause lethargy, vomiting and fever if swallowed. The flowers can cause allergies, even those of the genuine elderberry, Sambucus nigra.
    So no pies from this bush!

  12. Carol

    Stephanie is certainly right about the banded-tailed pigeons. Camping in northern California recently, we were startled when a whole flock descended into the red elderberry bushes around our campsite.

  13. Cambree

    Such pretty red berries. Too bad we can’t make pie of out them.
    But at least the birds have plenty to enjoy!

  14. StephL

    I just ate a few of the blue elderberries today. I was under the impression the red and blue elderberries are edible.
    Now I see from the website posted below that they do contain cyanide producing glycosides in the leaves, stems, bark, roots, and green fruits raw (probably lower then for the ripe fruits I ate). Also says the toxicity is destroyed when cooked (so should be fine in pies?)
    http://montana.plant-life.org/species/sambu_ceru.htm
    Beautiful plants wither way.

  15. Sherrie

    I have a beautiful large one growing behind my party shack at the back of my property. I think this tree or bush *very large to be a bush* is responsible for the abundance of birds in my back yard.
    I never knew what this tree was. Now I know 🙂
    It is officially a tree right?

  16. elizabeth a airhart

    the birds love the elderberrys
    i know my grandparents had
    elerberry wine in the house
    and the amish made pies
    the pitures are nice one may
    also find pictures and botanical
    drawings etc on usda cal photos
    nursery sites etc thank you

  17. Kevin

    I love the canopy walkway. What a great way to view plant material. Hope to visit one day to see this in person.

  18. Jan in PDX, Or

    Elderberries are not ripe until October, when they turn dark purple & have a dusty looking coating…About mid October is when the birds start flocking to the trees…At least that is how it is in the Columbia River Gorge @ Hood River, Oregon…They make great juice for a medicinal remedy (could this be like blackberry cordial from Anne of Green Gables) ;)…It also makes very tasty jelly, that I have given to friends, that remember the taste from their grandmas home…Very fun & free for the picking.

  19. Ron B

    Blue elderberry produces dome-like rather than conical heads, over a longer season with fruits and flowers being present at the same time in summer.
    A red elder I noticed on Whidbey Island then became the US National Champion, as I recall I determined it to measure 40′ x 4’1″ (single stem with elevated crown).
    Soon after becoming listed by American Forests it died.
    The local red elders also occur in purple, orange and yellow phases. A lemon yellow one I noticed up the street from me was particularly nice with its contrasting dark purple stalks and dark purple tip on the end of each berry. Cuttings given to friends failed to root, seedlings that fruited were red-berried.

  20. Horatio

    I really enjoy both the photos and comments offered at this site! Please keep it going!
    I think that those folks talking about making wine, jelly, etc. from Elderberry fruit are thinking of Sambucus canadensis (American Elderberry). It has the dark blue-black fruit which ripen later in the summer, and which form in flat-topped cymes, rather than the conical/pyrimidal cymes of S.racemosa. Both grow in southern Mich. On the east coast, I have only seen S. canedensis. According to USDA-ARS, this spp. is grown commercially in Oregon.

  21. Tunde

    …and remember Dumbledore’s very special and most magical wand?
    It is the Elder Wand made out of elderberry wood.
    According to the Germans, elderberries attract the good spirits so the Germans often planted some elderberries in their gardens (mostly Sambucus nigra, the black elderberry).
    The birds LOVE elderberries so it is environmentally sensitive to have some elderberries in the garden.
    Red elderberry tolerates shade or at least part shade well whic makes this plant very valuable in today’s small back yards.

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