Smooth Sumac

Rhus glabra

Smooth_Sumac_Rhus_glabra.jpg

Illustration of smooth sumac leaves, flowers, fruits.
Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra).
Paul Nelson
Edible
Family

Anacardiaceae (cashews)

Description

Smooth sumac is a thicket-forming shrub or small tree with a spreading crown.

Leaves are alternate, feather-compound, 12–16 inches long, with 15–23 leaflets; central leaf-stem smooth, lacking wings; leaflets with tip pointed, base rounded, margins coarsely toothed; upper surface dark green, shiny; lower surface lighter to conspicuously white, smooth; broken leaves exude a white sticky sap. Leaves turn red in fall.

Bark is grayish-brown, roughened with raised pores; smooth on young plants; older trunks with shallow grooves.

Twigs are stout, angular, smooth, with a whitish coating that can be wiped off.

Flowers late May–July, both male and female flowers in dense, much-branched clusters at the end of new growth, on separate plants; clusters 5–9 inches long; flowers numerous, petals 5, white.

Fruits August–September, compact clusters, erect, persistent; fruit round, about 1/8 in diameter, dark red with red velvety hairs, fleshy, 1-seeded; stone smooth, oval.

Similar species: There are four species of sumacs in Missouri.

Size

Height: to 20 feet.

Smooth_Sumac.JPG

Photo of smooth sumac.
Smooth Sumac
Smooth sumac is common in upland prairies, thickets, fence rows, idle fields, borders and openings of woods, disturbed sites, roadsides, and along railroads.

Smooth_Sumac_Fruit_Cluster

Photo of a Smooth Sumac berry cluster.
Smooth Sumac Fruit Cluster
Smooth sumac berries are distinctive and often persist through winter, if wildlife doesn't eat them first.

Smooth_Sumac_Stem.JPG

Photo of a smooth sumac stem.
Smooth Sumac Stem
The stems and twigs of smooth sumac are stout, angular, smooth, with a whitish coating that can be wiped off.

Smooth_Sumac_Fruits.JPG

Photo of smooth sumac fruit cluster.
Smooth Sumac Fruits
Smooth sumac fruits ripen in late summer. They are compact clusters of dark red fruits with velvety hairs.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in upland prairies, thickets, fence rows, idle fields, borders and openings of woods, disturbed sites, roadsides, and along railroads. Grows in colonies resulting from stems sprouting from roots. This native but sometimes aggressive shrub occurs in clumps or colonies and spreads by seeds and rootstocks. It sprouts easily and grows rapidly. Aboveground stems are relatively short-lived while roots persist and form new stems.

image of Smooth Sumac distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide. Smooth sumac is native to and occurs nearly throughout the United States and into southern Canada; it is most common in the eastern United States.

Human connections

Most parts of this plant have been used medicinally by Native Americans and in folk medicine. The red berries are beloved by wild-edibles enthusiasts, who use them to make a kind of "pink lemonade" and jellies. In early autumn, smooth sumac turns brilliant purplish red, heralding the fall color season. They decorate our roadsides.

Ecosystem connections

Dozens of types of birds eat the fruit. Rabbits and deer eat the leaves and twigs. Smooth sumac is an energetic colonizer of disturbed landscapes, as along highways, stabilizing raw soil. It can also become weedy and is one of the woody plants that can invade and degrade prairies.