Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Rhus glabra, Smooth Sumac

Smooth Sumac has yellowish to creamy white small flowers, somewhat showy. The flowering stem is a large branched panicle with a smooth stalk and unisexual and bisexual flowers. Note the small fruits, a drupe, developing in the photo. Rhus glabra Smooth Sumac has dark green leaves on the surface and paler green on the other side. The leaves are deciduous and alternate along the stems and have between 13 and 19 or so leaflets. The leaflets are sessile (without leaf stems). One of the dramatic features of this species are the bright red leaves in the fall. Rhus glabra Smooth Sumac is a thicket-forming shrub or tree; the bark is dark gray, and the twigs are glaucous to pinkish-gray. Smooth Sumac grows to about 20 (7 m) under ideal conditions. Blooms happen from May or June through July or August depending on location.  Rhus glabra Smooth Sumac is found in rich soils, waste places, fields, roadsides and margins or borders of woods often in oak and ponderosa pine communities. Smooth Sumac is found throughout much of Canada, most of the Untied States and southward to northeastern Mexico (Tamaulipas). Rhus glabra

Scientific Name: Rhus glabra, Smooth Sumac
Common Name: Smooth Sumac

Also Called: Common Sumac, Rocky Mountain Sumac, Red Sumac, Scarlet Sumac, Western Sumac and White Sumac.

Family: Anacardiaceae, Sumac Family

Synonyms: (Rhus albida, Rhus borealis, Rhus elegantula, Rhus calophylla, Rhus glabra var. cismontana, Rhus glabra var. laciniata, Rhus glabra var. occidentalis)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: 6 to 20 feet (2-7 m) tall

Growth Form: Tree or shrub; small trees or thicket-forming shrubs often from branched rhizomes; bark dark gray, twigs glaucous, lenticel, pinkish-gray.

Leaves: Green, dark green above, paler beneath, turn bright red in the fall, leaves alternate, deciduous; odd-pinnately compound, 13 to 19 or more foliolate, leaflet without petiolule (sessile), narrowly lanceolate to oblong .75 to 3 inches (20-80 mm) long, .4 to 1 inches (10-25 mm) wide, margins sub-entire to serrate, glabrous.

Flower Color: Yellowish greenish to creamy white, flowers small but somewhat showy; inflorescence a large terminal and branched panicle with a smooth stalk and tiny yellowish green flowers (thyrse); flowers numerous, dioecious, sepals greenish, petals cream colored; some plants with unisexual and bisexual flowers; fruit a small drupe with a single seed.

Flowering Season: May or June through July or August

Elevation: 5,000 to 7,000 feet (.94-1.3 m)

Habitat Preferences: Common in rich soils, waste places, fields, roadsides and margins or borders of woods, often in oak and ponderosa pine woodlands; According to USDA, Fire Effects Information System, Smooth Sumac is a climax indicator in a number of shrub-grassland communities.

Recorded Range: Smooth Sumac is found throughout much of Canada, most of the Untied States and southward to northeastern Mexico (Tamaulipas).

North America & US County Distribution Map for Rhus glabra.

U.S. Weed Information: In North America Rhus glabra can be weedy or invasive according to the following authoritative sources: Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains. Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.

Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.
Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: In North America there are 18 for Rhus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 131 accepted species names and a further 96 scientific names of infraspecific rank for genus Rhus. The genus Rhus was published by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona and Texas each have 7 species of genus, California has 5 species, Nevada has 2 species, New Mexico has 5 species and Utah has 3 species. All data approximate and subject to revision.

Comments: Smooth Sumac is found throughout most of North America and well into Mexico. It is believed to be the only shrub or tree species native to all 48 contiguous states. This species of Rhus is often planted as a landscape plant because of it interesting green color throughout the summer and colorful red fall foliage and berry-like fruits. In some areas this species large decorative arrangements because the seeds remaining on stalks for lengthly periods of time.
Smooth Sumac is planted as a shelter-belt species and on depleted game ranges and is also used as "living" snow fences in areas where wildlife habitat improvement projects are objectives.

For a comprehensive thoroughly documented review of Rhus glabra see the USDA USFS Fire Effects Information System, or FEIS.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see; Kearney's Sumac, Rhus kearneyi, Littleleaf Sumac, Rhus microphylla, Skunkbush Sumac, Rhus trilobata var. trilobata, and Sugar Sumac, Rhus ovata.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
The fruits, leaves and stems of Smooth Sumac are utilized by small mammals, birds of many species of insects.

The twigs and leaves are browsed by white-tail and mule deer year round but more importantly in the winter period when other browse species are scarce. And also the fruits which are persistent throughout the fall and winter provide a ready food source, again, when other food sources are not available. The showy flowers on Rhus glabra are visited regularly by birds such as hummingbirds and by nectar-feeding bats and insects. The palatable fruits are consumed by many species of birds and small mammals. For example, wild turkey, gray partridge and mourning dove feed on the fruits.

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
Rhus glabra is of special value to bees, both Native Bees and Honeybees which use the plants for nesting materials and structure. Several varieties of butterflies and moths regularly visit member of the genus Rhus. It is likely Rhus glabra is included - Find out more from Butterflies and Moths of North America. and from the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

The genus Rhus is from the ancient Greek name for Sumac "rhous". The genus Rhus was published by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.
The species epithet "glabra" is from the Latin definition for glaber, glabra, glabrum and means smooth or hairless.
Rhus glabra has been used for a multitude of purposes by North American indigenous peoples.
  • Apache, Chiricahua & Mescalero, Food, Special Food, Bark eaten by children as a delicacy.
  • Cherokee, Drug, Antiemetic, Red berries eaten for vomiting; burn Dressing, infusion poured over sunburn blisters; gynecological aid, infusion of bark taken 'to make human milk flow abundantly.'; urinary aid, red berries chewed for bedwetting, dye, black, berries used to make black dye.
  • Cheyenne, Other, Smoke Plant,Leaves mixed with tobacco and used for smoking.
  • Chippewa, Drug, Antidiarrheal, Decoction of 'growth which sometimes appears on the tree' used for dysentery; cold remedy Infusion of roots taken for colds.
  • Flathead Drug, Tuberculosis Remedy, Infusion of green or dried branches taken for tuberculosis.
  • Iroquois Food, Unspecified, Sprouts eaten raw.
  • Lakota Other, Smoke Plant, Red, autumn leaves used to smoke.
  • Meskwaki, Food, Beverage, Berries and sugar used to make a cooling drink in the summer time and stored for winter use.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.
    Date Profile Completed: 01/16/2020
    Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database – ITIS search (accessed 01/18/2020).
    Seiler, John; Peterson, John, Virginia Tech; Dept of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation; Kearney’s Sumac; on-line accessed 01/18/2020
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 01/17/2020).
    Johnson, Kathleen A. 2000. Rhus glabra. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
    Available: [2020, January 18].
    Anderson, John L., 2006. Vascular Plants of Arizona: Anacardiaceae. CANOTIA 3 (2): 13-22.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX. (accessed 01/16/2020).
    New York Botanical Garden - (accessed 01/16/2020)
    The Morton Arboretum: VPlants, The Field Museum of Natural History. Note: Site is no longer operational.
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
    ETYMOLOGY: Michael L. Charters; California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology; (accessed 01/18/2020)