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Skunkbush Rhus trilobata (Rhus aromatica var. trilobata)

 

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Skunkbush, berries
credit: Stan Shebs/CCSA

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Alternate name: Ill-scented Sumac, Skunkbush Sumac, Squawbush, Lemonade Berry

Family: Anacardiaceae, Cashew view all from this family



Description Rhus trilobata, also called sourberry and three-leaf sumac, is native to the western half of Canada and the Western United States, from the Great Plains to California and south through Arizona extending into northern Mexico. It can be found from deserts to mountain peaks up to about 7,000 feet in elevation.

Rhus trilobata, Skunkbush sumac, grows in many types of plant communities, such as the grasslands east of the Rocky Mountains, mountainous shrubland, pine, juniper, and fir forests, wetlands, oak woodlands, and chaparral. The plant is destroyed above ground but rarely killed by wildfire, and will readily sprout back up in burned areas.

This Rhus species closely resembles other members of the genus that have leaves with three "leaflets" ("trifoliate" leaves). These include Rhus aromatica, native to eastern North America, and western Poison-oak. The shape of the leaflets and the habit of the shrub make this species, like some other Rhus, resemble small-leafed oaks (Quercus).

The Rhus trilobata leaves have a very strong scent when crushed. The aroma is medicinal or bitter, disagreeable enough to some to have gained the plant the name skunkbush. The leaves are green when new and turn orange and brown in the fall. The twigs are fuzzy when new, and turn sleek with age. The flowers, borne on small catkins ("short shoots"), are white or light yellow. Edible fruit, the plant yields hairy and slightly sticky red berries which have an aroma similar to limes and a very sour taste. The acidity comes from tannic and gallic acids. The flowers are animal-pollinated and the seeds are dispersed by animals that eat the berries. The shrub also reproduces vegetatively, sending up sprouts several meters away and forming thickets.


Habitat Mountains, Scrub, shrub & brushlands, Grasslands & prairies, Canyons & valleys.


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


 

 

 

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