Click on image to enlarge.
Scientific name: Anthophyta: Dicotyledonae: Sapindales: Anacardiaceae:
Common Name: Information Sheet, Sumacs
Photographer: E. M. Barrows
Identifier: E. M. Barrows
Rhus spp., Sumacs
(Petrides 1988, plate 20; Kricher & Morrison 1998, 245) [Greek, Latin Rhus, the old name for this genus]
General roles in forests.
Note: This information sheet temporarily has an image of Poison Ivy, in the same genus as Sumacs, but Poison Ivy is not technically a sumac.
Sumacs are autotrophs that live in forests, forest edges, successional areas, and yards. Sumacs sometimes grow in pure stands. Many kinds of organisms consume dead and living sumac fruits, leaves, roots, and stems.
Specific roles in forests. Several mammal species eat sumac twigs. Mice, rabbits, and Wood Rats eat bark. Wood Rats build their bulky dens at bases of Aromatic Sumacs (Rhus aromatica) during the cold season (Stephens 1969, 161). Many kinds of arthropods consume sumac nectar, pollen, or both; they include beetle spp., the Spring Azure and other butterfly spp.; the Giant Carpenter Bee, Gold-green Sweat Bees, and other bee spp.; flower-fly spp. and other fly spp.; moth spp.; and wasp spp. Honey Bees make honey from sumac nectar. Sumac species are minor to major honey plants in the continental U.S. (Pellett 1978, 388). Sumacs form thickets which shelter wildlife (Stephens 1969, 159). Some sumacs are excellent ground cover which hold soil in place.
Identification by leaves: please see "Information Sheet, Black Walnut."
Human uses. Some Humans drink tea (usually iced) (= Indian lemonade) from drupes of nonpoisonous species, e.g., Smooth Sumac and Staghorn Sumac (Peterson 1977, 186). Malic acid is a major, tasty component of this tea. Gather the fruit before heavy rains that wash out their flavor. I have tried this tea in Kansas, and it is good. We grow sumacs as an ornamental and shade trees. Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) is an excellent plant for mass planting (Brown 1921, 265). Rhus glabra cv. laciniata is widely cultivated as an ornamental. Dwarf Sumac is widely used as an ornamental shrub in parks and cemeteries in the eastern U.S. and prized for its dark green, lustrous leaves, which turn a rich maroon in fall; small stature; and persisting, showy infructescences (Brown 1921, 267). Humans harvest tannin from some sumac species (Harlow and Harrar 1958, 448). We use the wood for darners, knickknacks, napkin rings, picture frames, etc. Some people use infructescences in dried-flower arrangements (Bell and Lindsey 1990, 103), and the wood for decorative finishing and wood novelties (Farrar 1995). Some people plant Staghorn Sumac as an ornamental especially for its brilliant red autumn foliage, but its numerous root sprouts can be a problem (Farrar 1995). Many bird species eat its fruit (Farrar 1995). Deer, moose, and rabbits browse its twigs and leaves. Some people consider Staghorn Sumac to be a "weed" tree, and it grows in a variety of soils and sites along fences and highways, in pastures, and on talus slopes and cliffs, usually in dry situations, often forming copses (Brown 1921, 263). Staghorn Sumac is an important native species in ecosystems. Sumacs sometimes dominate pastures (Stephens 1969, 161).