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 ⅛ inch in diameter, dark red with red velvety hairs, fleshy, 1-seeded; stone smooth, oval.
Similar species: There are four species of sumacs in Missouri.
Height: to 20 feet.
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.
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.
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.
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.