Flower Color: Yellow or whitish-yellow and bright red; inflorescence appears before leaves; flowers sessile on tips of short stiff branches; fruit a hairy, sticky, bright red or red-orange drupe.
Flowering Season: March to May or later; March to May in California; March to April in Texas.
Elevation: 2,500 to 7,500 feet; below 6,500 feet in California.
Habitat Preferences: Wide-ranging; mid to upper deserts, mesas and lower mountain habitats; common on slopes, canyons, rocky hillsides; variable plant communities where it is found in chaparral, madrean pine-oak woodlands, pinyon-pine woodlands ponderosa pine forests and riparian communities.
Recorded Range:Rhus trilobata var trilobata is native mostly to the western ½ of the United States; to Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada and to Baja California and Mexico.
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 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: Skunkbush is so named because it gives off an odor when the leaves or stems are bruised or intentionally crushed. This odor is ill-scented to some while fragrant to others. Its scientific epithet "trilobata" is a direct reference to its trifoliate leaves.
Rhus trilobata var. trilobata is browsed by big game such as elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn. It is also browsed by small mammals such as jackrabbits and cottontails. The plants are important winter food sources for birds, particularly upland game birds. Livestock will occasionally browse on Skunkbush.
Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
According to Butterflies and Moths of North America, several varieties of butterflies and moths regularly visit member of the genus Rhus. It is likely Rhus trilobata var. trilobata is included. Find out more from Butterflies and Moths of North America.
According to Arizona Flora Native Americans ate the berries and used the stems to make baskets, while other parts of the plant were used as a mordant to help bind dyes. Skunkbush has been used as a cold remedy, burn dressing and miscellaneous disease remedies. This is an important species to southwestern American indigenous peoples.