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Plant of the Week: Sambucus racemosa

Plant of the Week! One of the photos from last week’s plant (on our Facebook page) showed another native shrub – did you guess what it was? The answer is Sambucus racemosa, or Red Elderberry. Red Elderberry is a large multi-stemmed shrub that spreads through rhizomes. Its ability to spread, along with its dense roots, make it useful for soil stabilization and prevention of erosion. According to the NRCS, it can be used for many other purposes, from insecticides to musical instruments. Tiny panicles of white flowers are followed by beautiful red berries in the summer. The berries are eaten by songbirds and small mammals, but humans should never eat them raw. The plant as a whole contains cyanide-producing toxins and is thus typically not browsed by mammals. Red elderberry’s natural habitat is on moist sites such as stream banks and swamps; in the garden it should be given rich, moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Although the plant’s natural tendency is to become tall, arching, and spreading, it can be kept pruned if a tidier appearance is desired.

Many thanks to Ben French of Johnson’s Nursery for the beautiful photo!

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