Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Rhus ovata, Sugar Sumac

Sugar Sumac or Mountain Laurel has small but attractive cream, white or pinkish flowers. The inflorescence is a dense panicle. Rhus ovata Sugar Sumac fruit is a drupe, pretty red berries, often sticky. The plants bloom from March to April or later across its small geographic range.  Rhus ovata Sugar Sumac has bright green shiny leathery leaves that are mostly evergreen. The leaves are heart shaped to elliptic, often folding at the midrib. Rhus ovata Sugar Sumac grows in elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 across its range in Arizona and California. Preferred habitats are south-facing slopes, rocky hillsides and washes. The bright green leaves make the plants conspicuous in mid-desert chaparral communities. Rhus ovata

Scientific Name: Rhus ovata
Common Name: Sugar Sumac
Also Called: Mountain Laurel, Sugar Bush, Sugar-bush (Spanish: Lentisco)
Family: Anacardiaceae, Sumac Family
Synonyms: (Rhus ovata var. traskiae) )
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: Up to 15 feet more or less.
Growth Form: Large shrub or small tree; evergreen, heavily leaved, stout branches, mostly pubescent more so than glabrous; old bark shaggy.
Leaves: Bright green; evergreen, shiny, leathery, shape variable, wide-ovate to elliptic; entire; simple; petiolate; shape variable, heart shaped or ovate; folding at midrib.
Flower Color: Cream, white or pinkish, deep red; inflorescence dense panicles; sepals magenta; petals cream to pinkish; fruit sticky red berries.
Flowering Season: March to April or later; March to May in California.
Elevation: 3,000 to 5,000 feet; below 4,000 feet in California.

Habitat Preferences: Mid to upper edge of Sonoran Desert, canyons, rocky hillsides, washes, south-facing slopes and mesas, common and conspicuous in chaparral.

Recorded Range: Rare in the United States found in southern California and central and northwest Arizona. Also found in Baja California.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Rhus ovata.

U.S. Weed Information: No data available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No data available.
Wetland Indicator: No data available.
Threatened/Endangered Information: No data 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: Sugar Sumac is an attractive plant often used as an ornamental and desert landscape specimen in central and southern Arizona and southern California. The plant has excellent wildlife value providing food and habitat for birds, butterflies and other insects.

In California, Sugar Sumac is known to hybridize with Lemonade Sumac, Rhus integrifolia.

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

Ethno-Herbalist: Southern California Ethnobotany; Ethnobotany of Southern California Native Plants:Rhus ovata.

Rhus ovata has been used for food and other purposes American indigenous peoples.
Cahuilla Drug, Cold Remedy, Infusion of leaves taken for colds.
Cahuilla Food, Dried Food, Berries dried.
Cahuilla Food, Porridge, Berries ground into a flour for mush.
Coahuilla Drug, Analgesic, Infusion of leaves taken for chest pain.
Diegueno Drug, Gynecological Aid, Infusion of leaves taken just before the birth for an easy delivery.
Yavapai Food, Fruit, Mashed, raw berries used for food
See other ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Date Profile Completed: 11/21/2014, updated 09/23/2016, 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.
Sonoran Desert Field Guide, Plagens, Michael J., accessed 04/28/2017.
John M. Miller & Dieter H. Wilken 2017. Rhus ovata, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on April 28, 2017.
SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations, (accessed 04/28/2017).