Rhus glabra (Smooth Sumac)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Rhus
Family:Anacardiaceae (Sumac)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
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

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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.

Notes:

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.

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More photos

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

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