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Smooth Sumac Rhus glabra


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Smooth Sumac
credit: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Herman, D.E., et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA NRCS ND State Soil Conservation Committee; NDSU Extension and Western Area Power Administration, Bismarck.

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Family: Anacardiaceae, Cashew view all from this family

Description Rhus glabra is native to North America, from southern Quebec west to southern British Columbia in Canada, and south to northern Florida and Arizona in the United States and Tamaulipas in northeastern Mexico.

One of the easiest shrubs to identify throughout the year (unless mistaken for Rhus vernix, poison sumac, in the absence of mature fruit) smooth sumac has a spreading, open-growing shrub growing up to 3 m tall, rarely to 5 m. The leaves are alternate, 30-50 cm long, compound with 11-31 leaflets, each leaflet 5-11 cm long, with a serrated margin. The leaves turn scarlet in the fall. The flowers are tiny, green, produced in dense erect panicles 10-25 cm tall, in the spring, later followed by large panicles of edible crimson berries that remain throughout the winter. The buds are small, covered with brown hair and borne on fat, hairless twigs. The bark on older wood is smooth and grey to brown.

Habitat Canyons & valleys, Fields, Scrub, shrub & brushlands.

Range Southwest, Eastern Canada, Northwest, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, Plains, Florida, New England, California, Southeast, Rocky Mountains.

Comments This is the dominant sumac of blackland prairies. Plants of Rocky Mountain origin are usually separated into the variety cismontana. This dwarf variety is becoming popular in cultivation. In a planned landscape, the species is most effective when drifts or colonies, typical of natural settings, are allowed to establish. Colonies can be rejuvenated every few years by cutting them to the ground in mid-winter. Sumacs will grow in dry waste areas, such as impossible slopes where even junipers struggle. They are fast growing, generally pest and disease-free, and drought-tolerant. Colonies are often single-sexed, formed from a single, suckering parent. Only female plants produce flowers and berries.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Flower May - June (in south); July (in north)

Native Distribution Maine to Florida, w. to British Columbia, e. Oregon, Nevada & Mexico

Site Preference Roadsides; fields; wood borders; waste places

Soil Preference Most dry soils. pH 6.1-7.

Wildlife Value Winter food for many upland gamebirds, songbirds, and large and small mammals.