8 Elderberry Lookalikes to Easily Recognize

8 Elderberry Lookalikes to Easily Recognize

8 Elderberry Lookalikes to Easily Recognize


Elderberries are a well-known and highly sought-after plant in the world of survival and foraging. Not only are they delicious and versatile, but they also offer a wide range of medicinal properties. However, it is crucial to be able to identify elderberries correctly to avoid any potential health risks. In this article, we will explore eight elderberry lookalikes that you can easily recognize, ensuring that you only harvest true elderberries.

1. Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana)

Pokeberry, also known as pokeweed, is a plant that may be mistaken for elderberry due to its similar appearance. Both plants have clusters of dark berries that grow in the late summer to early fall. However, there are a few key differences that can help you distinguish between the two:

  • Pokeberry stems are often reddish or purplish, while elderberry stems are typically greenish.
  • The leaves of pokeberry are larger and more elongated compared to the rounder leaves of elderberry.
  • While elderberries are safe to eat when ripe, all parts of the pokeberry plant are toxic and should not be consumed.

2. Yew (Taxus spp.)

Yew is a tree that can be mistaken for elderberry due to its berry-like fruit. However, yew berries are highly poisonous and should never be consumed. Differentiating between yew and elderberry is crucial for your safety:

  • Yew berries are not true berries but are actually modified cones.
  • The seeds inside yew berries are highly toxic and can cause severe illness or even death if ingested.
  • Elderberry bushes have small, flat clusters of true berries.
  • The leaves of yew trees are needle-like, while elderberry leaves are pinnate, meaning they have multiple leaflets arranged on a central stem.

3. Dogwood (Cornus spp.)

Certain species of dogwood trees and shrubs bear fruits that may resemble elderberries, but they are not edible and should be avoided. Here’s how to spot the differences:

  • Dogwood fruits are usually more elongated and oblong compared to the rounder elderberries.
  • The fruit clusters of dogwood are typically arranged in a tight cluster, while elderberries have a looser, more open cluster.
  • Be aware that some species of dogwood have poisonous berries, so it is always better to err on the side of caution.

4. Nightshade (Solanum spp.)

Several species of nightshade, such as black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), can resemble elderberries in terms of their berry clusters. However, nightshade berries are toxic and should never be consumed. To differentiate between the two, look for these features:

  • Nightshade berries are typically smaller and rounder than elderberries.
  • Elderberry clusters are loosely arranged, while nightshade clusters are more compact and dense.
  • Nightshade leaves are usually smooth-edged, while elderberry leaves are serrated.
  • Exercise extreme caution when identifying nightshade, as some species can be deadly if ingested.

5. Buckthorn (Rhamnus spp.)

Buckthorn plants can be mistaken for elderberry due to their similar clusters of dark berries. However, buckthorn berries are not edible and can cause gastrointestinal issues. To tell the difference between buckthorn and elderberry, pay attention to these characteristics:

  • The berries of buckthorn are usually smaller and more oval-shaped compared to the rounder elderberries.
  • Unlike elderberries, which grow in loose clusters, buckthorn berries grow in more compact clusters.
  • The leaves of buckthorn are typically smooth-edged, while elderberry leaves are serrated.

6. Chokeberry (Aronia spp.)

Chokeberries are another plant that may resemble elderberries but are not the same. While chokeberries are safe to eat when properly prepared, mistaking them for elderberries could lead to disappointment if you were looking for the latter. Here are some ways to tell chokeberries apart from elderberries:

  • Chokeberries tend to be smaller and darker than elderberries.
  • The clusters of chokeberries are usually more compact and tightly packed than the looser clusters of elderberries.
  • Chokeberry leaves are smooth-edged, while elderberry leaves are serrated.

7. Viburnum (Viburnum spp.)

Viburnum plants are often confused with elderberries due to their similar appearance and fruit clusters. While some viburnum species produce edible fruits, others are mildly toxic and can cause stomach discomfort if consumed in large quantities. To avoid confusion, take note of these characteristics:

  • Viburnum berries are typically smaller and less juicy than elderberries.
  • The clusters of viburnum berries are usually more tightly packed than the more open clusters of elderberries.
  • Pay attention to leaf shape and arrangement, as different viburnum species may have different leaf forms.

8. Cherry (Prunus spp.)

Cherry trees and shrubs produce fruits that can resemble elderberries at first glance. While cherries are delicious and edible, mistaking them for elderberries might not satisfy your foraging goals. Here’s how to differentiate between cherries and elderberries:

  • Cherries are usually larger and rounder than elderberries.
  • The clusters of cherry fruits are typically smaller and denser compared to the looser clusters of elderberries.
  • Cherry leaves have toothed edges, while elderberry leaves are serrated.


Identifying elderberry lookalikes is essential if you are foraging for these delicious and nutritious fruits. Mistaking toxic plants for elderberries can be dangerous or even deadly. Remember to pay attention to the distinctive features, such as stem color, leaf shape, cluster arrangement, and berry size. Always double-check your identification to ensure you are harvesting true elderberries and not a dangerous imposter.

My 2 Cents

Foraging for wild foods like elderberries is an exciting and rewarding experience. However, it is crucial to prioritize safety and always double-check your plant identification. If you’re new to foraging, consider consulting a knowledgeable guidebook or joining a foraging group in your area. Learning to positively identify elderberries and their lookalikes will not only enhance your foraging skills but also ensure that you’re harvesting the best and safest food nature has to offer. Happy foraging!