Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Rhus microphylla, Littleleaf Sumac

Littleleaf Sumac blooms from March to May with white and green flowers and reddish-orange fruits. Rhus microphylla Littleleaf Sumac, Desert Sumac or Scrub Sumac is a native shrub or small tree that grows up to 15 feet or so and prefers elevations from 1,000 to 6,500 across its southwestern United States range. Rhus microphylla Littleleaf Sumac has dull green leaves, some leathery and some shiny, leaves are deciduous about 1 ½ inches long, and pinnately-compound with 5 to 9 leaflets. Rhus microphylla Littleleaf Sumac is one of 7 species of Rhus in the southwestern United States. Plants prefer washes, canyons, arroyos, dry mesas and slopes and scrubby uplands. Rhus microphylla

Scientific Name: Rhus microphylla
Common Name: Littleleaf Sumac
Also Called: Desert Sumac, Littleleaf Desert Sumac, Littleleaf Sumac, Scrub Sumac, (Spanish: Lima de la Sierra, Limilla de la Sierra, Agrillo, Saladito, Sidra (both generic), Agritos, Correosa)
Family: Anacardiaceae, Sumac Family
Synonyms: ()
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: Up to 15 feet or so.
Growth Form: Shrub, small tree; multiple crooked branches, intricately branched; spinescent twigs; bark dark gray to black, smooth and later becoming scaly.
Leaves: Green, dull green, leathery or not, shiny or not; pilose, sessile; deciduous; leaves about 1 ½ inches long; pinnately-compound, 5 to 9 leaflets; flowers appear before the leaves.
Flower Color: White, green; dioecious, unisexual; flowers axillary and terminal clusters; fruit is a drupe, reddish-orange in color.
Flowering Season: March to May.
Elevation: 1,000 to 6,500 feet across its range.

Habitat Preferences: Washes, canyons, arroyos, dry mesas and slopes, scrubby uplands; prefers sandstone, limestone and granitic parent materials.

Recorded Range: Littleleaf Sumac is found in the southwestern United States in AZ, NM, OK, TX. Although it occurs in both the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, given its geographic distribution it could be considered more of a Chihuahuan Desert species. It is also native to Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Rhus microphylla.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
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 20 species for Rhus. World wide, The Plant List includes 131 accepted species names and includes a further 96 of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 7 species of Rhus, California has 5 species, Nevada has 2 species, New Mexico has 5 species, Texas has 7 species, Utah has 3 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

Comments: Littleleaf Sumac is eaten by livestock but is of poor quality. In Texas and New Mexico Mule Deer and Pronghorn browse the leaves. The fruits are eaten by birds and small mammals. In dense stands, Littleleaf Sumac provides cover for deer.

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

Rhus microphylla has been used for food by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.

  • Apache Food, Fruit, Fruits eaten for food.
  • Apache, Chiricahua & Mescalero Food, Preserves, Dried fruits ground, pulp mixed with water and sugar and cooked to make jam.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: , updated format 10/07/2017
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database – ITIS search (accessed 04/28/2017).
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 04/28/2017).
    John L. Anderson, 2006; Vascular Plants of Arizona: Anacardiaceae, Sumac Family. CANOTIA 3(2): 13-22.
    Harris, Holly T. 1990. Rhus microphylla. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
    Available: [2017, May 4].
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: ]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information - (accessed 05/04/2017).