Fragrant Sumac

Rhus aromatica
Anacardiaceae (cashews)

A thicket-forming shrub, with branches ascending or lying on the ground.

Leaves 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 dark brown, smooth on young stems, becoming cracked later; pores prominent.

Twigs 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 to poison ivy, 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.

Height: to 8 feet.
Habitat and conservation: 
Occurs in rocky or open woods, in thickets, on glades and along ledges. Increasingly used as a native landscaping plant, there are now a selection of varieties and cultivars available, some taller, some shorter or "dwarf." Depending on the type, fragrant sumac can make a good foundation planting or a good screen during the growing season. Fragrant sumac is drought tolerant and thrives in full sun; the leaves turn red and orange in fall.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Also called aromatic sumac and polecat bush.
Human connections: 
Does well as a border planting along woods. In fall, the leaves turn brilliant hues and add to its value as a shrub. Some people make an iced tea from the sour berries, sweetened like lemonade. If you plant this, you can have a bit of fun surprising visitors who don't know it from poison ivy!
Ecosystem connections: 
The fruit is eaten by many species of birds and mammals. To survive during severe winters, rabbits eat the bark.
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