by Manny Kropf,
Native Plants Class
Common names: Smooth sumac, common sumac, scarlet sumac (5, 7, 12).
Synonymy: Rhus borealis Greene, Rhus calophylla
Greene, Rhus glabra L. var. laciniata Carr., Rhus
glabra L. var. occidentalis Torr. (13)
Etymology: The genus Rhus is the name for a bushy shrub. The
epithet glabra refers to the smooth stems and leaves (7).
Growth form: Usually a dense thicket-forming shrub from 1 m to 2
m tall, but may become a small tree, 7 m tall (4, 12).
Roots: Depended almost exclusively on root suckering for reproduction
Stem: Stems are red brown to purplish, 4-6 mm in diameter, with
prominent gray lenticels. Twigs and petioles are smooth, hairless and
glaucous (2, 11).
Leaves: Leaves are alternate, pinnately compound, smooth, hairless
and elliptic to narrowly ovate. Leaves are sharply serrated to occasionally
sub entire, with the upper surface dark green and lustrous, and the
lower surface whitened. Leaves turn bright red in the fall (2, 11, 12).
There are typically 15-23 leaflets per leaf; leaflets are 7-9 cm long
and 2-3 cm wide (11).
Inflorescence/flowers: Inflorescences are loose terminal pyramidal
panicles 5-15 cm long (2, 11). Male and female flowers are in separate
groups on different trees in many flowered, elongated, dense clusters.
Flowers have 5 sepals and 5 white to yellowish green pedals, with the
male flowers having 5 stamens and the female flowers a single pistil
Fruit: The fruit is a reddish brown, fleshy, elliptic or elliptic-ovate,
4-5 mm diameter berries covered with short velvety hairs (2, 7, 12).
Each fruit contains one flattened stone and seed (3, 12).
Similar species: Rhus michauxii is a rare plant species
of the southeastern U.S. that is very similar to Rhus glabra,
with differences occurring in their DNA only (1). The fruits of Rhus
aromatica Aiton are very similar to those of Rhus glabra,
except Rhus aromatica has 3 leaflets and yellow flowers (7,
Life history: Short lived pioneer with a life span of about 30 years.
Clones from root suckering can live longer (14).
Native/introduced: Native (2, 13).
Photosynthetic pathway: C3 (10).
Phenology: In the southwest sumac flowers from June to August
(5, 12). Fruits ripen from September to October and are dispersed by
birds and mammals (12) Fire typically promotes seed germination (14).
Distribution: Widespread throughout the United States, southern
Canada and northern Mexico (10). In Arizona sumac is found in rich soils
and along roadsides from Apache County to Coconino County, south to
Cochise and Pima County, and at elevations from 5000 to 7000 feet (5,
Wildlife: Sumac is an important food for white tailed deer, rabbits
and 32 species of birds (4, 12). Native Americans: All parts of the
sumac have a wide range of uses including roots for dye, stems for basketry,
leaves for tanning and smoking, berries for tea and lemonade, and the
roots, shuts, and berries for food. Medicinally all parts of the sumac
were used as an astringent to stop bleeding and for renal disorders.
Sumac sticks were chewed to prevent tooth decay and to treat sore mouths
and tongues (4, 7).
1. Burke, J. M. and Hamrick, J. L. 2002. Genetic Variation and Evidence
of Hybridization in the Genus Rhus (Anacardiaceae). J. of Heredity.
2. Cronquist, A., Holmgren, N. H., and Holmgren, P. K. 1997. Intermountain
Flora: Vascular Plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A., Vol. 3, Part
A, Columbia University Press, New York.
3. Elias, T. S. 1980. Trees of North America. Van Nostrand Reinhold
Company, New York.
4. Elmore, F. H. 1976. Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Uplands. Southwest
Parks and Monuments Association, Tucson, AZ.
5. Epple, A. O. 1995. A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona. Flacon
Publishing, Helena, MO.
6. Kearney, T. H. and Peebles, R. H. 1964. Arizona Flora. University
of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA.
7. Kindscher, K. 1987. Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie. University
Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KA.
8. Li, X., Baskin, J. M. and Baskin, C. C. 1999. Comparative morphology
and physiology of fruit and seed in the two shrubs Rhus aromatica and
R. glabra (Anacardiaceae). American J. of Botany. 86:1217-1225.
9. Li, X., Baskin, J. M. and Baskin, C. C. 1999. Contrasting Soil Seed-bank
Dynamics in Relation to Local Recruitment Modes in Two Clonal Shrubs,
Rhus aromatica Ait. and R. glabra L. (Anacardiaceae). The American Midland
10. McCarron, J. K. and Knapp, A. K. 2001. C3 woody plant expansion
in a C4 grassland: are grasses and shrubs functionally distinct? American
J. of Botany. 88:1818-1823.
11. Stephens, H. A. 1973. Woody Plants of the North Central Plains.
University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KA.
12. Vines, R. A. 1960. Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southwest.
University of Texas Press, Austin, TX.
2002. Plants: Source and Reference. The U.S. Department of Agriculture.
TreeGuide: Species Details. Athenic Systems.