Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra)


Hearing the word "sumac", you may think of poison, such as poison sumac. Though smooth sumac is NOT poisonous, the leaves and blooms of both poison sumac and smooth sumac are quite similar. The main difference is the fruit produced by the shrubs. Poison sumac has grayish-white, flattened fruit while smooth sumac has red fruit. To be on the safe side, do not touch either shrub.

Smooth sumac is a deciduous shrub capable of reaching 20 feet tall though 9 to 15 feet tall (and wide) is more common. Smooth sumac grows well in both moist and dry soils, but prefers dry soil and full sun. The shrub is also drought tolerant.
Bloom clusters (panicles) of smooth sumac
In early summer, this shrub produces greenish-yellow bloom clusters (panicles) that are 3 to 5 inches long. The blooms shown above displayed in late July in USDA zone 7a. In late summer into mid-fall, smooth sumac produces pyramidal clusters of fuzzy, red berries. The berry color darkens into winter. Each berry contains one seed. The leaves of the shrub turn red in fall before being shed. The red-leafed shrub is sometimes referred to as scarlet sumac.


Areas where smooth sumac grows.
Map courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey
Smooth sumac is native to almost half the U.S., but is found to some extent in all the continental U.S. One method of propagating smooth sumac is through its dropped seeds. Because of that easy growth option, smooth sumac can become invasive if birds, like finch, bluebird, cardinal, dove, or bobwhite do not eat the berries.
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