Shelterbelt Varieties for Alberta - Red Elder, European Red Elder

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 Plant characteristics | Site preference | Hardiness | Uses | Problems | Diseases | Insects | Pruning

Scientific Name: Sambucus racemosa L.

Plant Characteristics

Red elder is a tall-growing, deciduous shrub growing to a mature height of 3 to 4 m (10 to 13 ft), a spread of 2.5 m (8 ft), and an annual growth of 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 in.). The six - year - old and older wood should be removed to promote vigorous growth of the shrub.

Bark - Thin, light reddish-brown, with narrow, intersecting scaly ridges. Wood has corky brown pith.

Flowers - Flowers small, in cream-coloured clusters 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 in.) across, appearing in late May or early June.

Fruit - Small, but the bright red clusters are quite showy. They appear in July or August, and turn black with frost.

Leaves - Leaves are opposite, 4 to 8 cm (1.5 to 3 in.) long, compound pinnate, with 3 to 7 ovate to elliptic leaflets. Sharply and coarsely serrate. Leaflets nearly sessile. Propagated by seed.

Site Preference

Red elder will grow under a wide variety of soil conditions, it can survive drought conditions and it can withstand some shade.


Sensitive - it might experience some winter damage.


Screen planting, shelterbelt, and sometimes used as a small single - or multi-stemmed tree.

Red elder can be planted 1 to 3 m (3 to 10 ft) between plants in the row, and 5 to 8 m (17 to 26 ft) between rows.


Winter dieback above snowline.


Crown rot.




Removal of older and winter injured wood.

Shelterbelts Varieties for Alberta provides information on a number of other trees and shrubs than may be suitable for shelterbelts.

Visit our website directory for the Reforestation Woodlot Listings.

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Toso Bozic.
This document is maintained by Brenda McLellan.
This information published to the web on May 7, 2001.
Last Reviewed/Revised on December 18, 2017.