Fragrant sumac is a thicket-forming shrub, with branches ascending or lying on the ground.
Leaves are alternate, compound with three leaflets, leaflets lacking stalks; terminal leaflet 2–2½ inches long, short stalked, egg-shaped, tip pointed to rounded, margin lobed or coarsely toothed, lower edge lacking teeth; foliage fragrant when crushed.
Bark is dark brown, smooth on young stems, becoming cracked later; pores prominent.
Twigs are slender, flexible, brown, hairy, becoming smooth later.
Flowers late March–April, before the leaves; clusters 1½ inches long, at ends of twigs (not along stems); flowers small, yellowish-green; petals egg-shaped, tips pointed; stamens shorter than the petals.
Fruits May–July, round, red, hairy, about ¼ inch long.
Similar species: Poison ivy looks similar, but the terminal leaflets on poison ivy are on stalks ½–1¾ inches long, and its berries are creamy-white and hairless. Also, poison ivy can climb as a vine, with aerial roots, while fragrant sumac doesn't climb at all.