Rhus glabra (Smooth Sumac)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Anacardiaceae (Sumac)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry to average moisture; woodland edges, savannas, prairies, outcrops, along roadsides, railroads, shores
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:3 to 18 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Pyramidal, branching cluster of short-stalked flowers at the tips of branches, with male and female flowers on separate plants and the clusters of male flowers rather larger than those with female flowers. Flowers are ¼ inch across or less with 5 yellowish to greenish petals. Male flowers are slightly larger than female flowers and have 5 yellow-tipped stamens; female flowers have a 3-parted style in the center. The calyx cupping the flower has 5 pointed lobes and is variously hairy, though may become smooth with maturity. Flower stalks are covered in short hairs.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate, up to 14 inches long, compound with 9 to 23 leaflets. Leaflets are generally lance-oblong, 2¼ to 4½ inches long, about 1 inch wide, shallowly toothed around the edges, with a short taper to a pointed tip, and rounded at the stalkless base. The upper surface is dark green and hairless except along the midvein, the lower is paler in color and smooth. Leaf stalks are hairless, typically reddish and covered in a waxy bloom. Leaves turn bright red in fall.

[photo of twig and branch buds] Twigs are hairless, green the first year, turning reddish brown the second, with scattered light brown lenticels (pores).

[photo of lower trunk] Older bark is thin, gray to gray-brown, smooth with scattered, warty lenticels. Trunks are up to 4 inches diameter at breast height (dbh). Stems are single, not heavily branched and often with a short, broad crown. Large colonies are often formed from root suckers.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] The female flower clusters form a tight cluster of slightly flattened, short-hairy, berry-like drupes, each less than ¼ inch in diameter and containing a single seed. Fruit ripens to deep red and may persist through winter and into the next season.


Smooth sumac is one of the more common and easily recognized native shrubs while driving across Minnesota. Its natural habitat is open prairie but it has taken a liking to road rights-of-way, especially in the absence of fires that to some extent, once limited it's colony sizes. It can expand fairly quickly, forming an extensive colony from root suckers. It is also a poignant seasonal indicator, being one of the first to turn brilliant red as summer segues into fall. Smooth sumac is not poisonous. In fact the red berries can be crushed into water to make a tart drink (sumac-ade), due to the high concentration of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the red covering over the seed clusters. Naitve Americans also used sumac leaves in the smoking mixture call kinninkinick. Smooth Sumac is easily distinguished from the related Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), which has distinctly fuzzy branches and fruits.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Landscape Alternatives
  • ReWild Native Gardens

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Annie H - Stl. Louis County / Hibbing
on: 2017-05-04 20:47:56

Growing on the edge of the woods just within my property line.

Posted by: Bob - Fridley
on: 2017-08-15 21:09:45

I would like to get some of these plants for my yard. Where is a good place to get them?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-08-16 05:51:56

Bob, see "where to buy native plants and seeds" that is shown on most pages of the website, including the sumac pages. If none of those vendors carry it perhaps one knows who does.

Posted by: Steve T - Bloomington
on: 2017-08-30 06:51:35

At the North American Prairie Conference, couple decades back, a speaker was talking about controlling sumac with an elaborate array of chemical warfare, etc. He said, "In western Nebraska we have elk, and they eat the sumac, and it never become a problem....". And so I thought, why not get elk! Sumac provides a highly edible forage to a variety of herbivores, and where grazing occurs, sumac rarely reaches 12" high. So, like many considered to be "invasive plants" sumac really isn't invasive, but rather suffering from the loss of control... biotic controls, herbivory.

Posted by: Mary L - Dakota County, Rosemount
on: 2018-06-09 12:56:31

1/2 acre of my field. I try to keep them contained. The fruit, which has a citrus taste, is a great meat seasoning. and great for making sumac tea. If kept in a glass jar, the fruit will keep for a year. There are guidelines for picking. You don't want to get a mouthful of moth larva. Not that it will harm you. It just may be a little unpleasant.

Posted by: Rebecca - Saint Cloud
on: 2022-07-31 02:47:14

so now i know what those weird plants i keep seeing on small hillsides here are... been trying to find it out for years. i love the bright burgundy color!

Posted by: Jason Evenson - Minneapolis
on: 2022-10-18 17:49:20

When's the best time to plant? I've got a berm about 180' long I'd like to plant on. What's best spacing to get coverage?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-10-19 07:42:21

Jason, Minnesota Wildflowers does not have any experience in propagating this species so you should direct those questions to the nursery where you purchase plants.

Posted by: John - Houston County
on: 2023-07-06 16:38:26

Question! Doesn't Rhus glabra & Rhus typhina hybridize? How would I tell the difference? Or a Bigger question Should I care to tell the difference? If they can easily Hybridize in Nature, shouldn't they both be the same species, but with different varieties?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-07 14:07:45

John, the two species do hybridize but I don't know the specifics of this hybrid, though hybrids in general tend to have characteristics intermediate between the two parents. Parents of hybrids are genetically distinct, so are not the same species.

Posted by: luciearl - Lake Shore
on: 2024-06-09 09:22:26

I bought a neighboring property. It has smooth sumac in the landscaping. It is so prolific, I wonder if it is a cultivar? It cannot be contained and roots spread, pop up in the driveway. I would like to transplant some to a nearby wilderness area that has been torn up from a trail project, but want to make sure it is native. It is covered with bees in August. All types. Quite fascinating.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2024-06-09 10:14:37

Luciearl, sumac is naturally a pretty aggressive spreader, probably more so in cultivation.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.