poison sumac

(Toxicodendron vernix)

Conservation Status
poison sumac
Photo by Jordan Wilson
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern

     
  NatureServe

N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked

     
  Minnesota

not listed

     
           
Wetland Indicator Status
     
  Midwest

OBL - Obligate wetland

     
  Northcentral & Northeast

OBL - Obligate wetland

     
           
 
Description
 
 

Poison sumac is a fast-growing, short-lived, deciduous, tall shrub or very small tree. It can be 10 to 25 tall and up to 6 in diameter at breast height, though in Minnesota it is usually no more than 15 in height and 2 in diameter.

The trunk is slender and is often branched near the base, and there are often vegetative sprouts at the base. The crown is small and rounded, with just a few wide-spreading branches.

The bark is thin, light gray, and smooth or shallowly fissured.

The twigs are moderately stout and orangish-brown or yellowish-brown. They are covered with conspicuous dark dots and splotches, and have numerous prominent, horizontal pores (lenticels). The leaf scars are large and shield-shaped, and has a number of scattered bundle scars. The terminal buds are broadly cone-shaped, to ¾ long, and are covered with downy scales. When broken or cut, the twigs exude a dark sap.

The leaves are deciduous, alternate, 6 to 12 long, and pinnately divided into 7 to 13 leaflets. They are on ¾ to 3½ long leaf stalks (petioles). The petiole and the central axis of the leaf (rachis) are red or yellowish-red. The rachis is hairless. The lateral leaflets are stalkless of on very short stalks. The terminal leaflet is on a to 1¼ long stalk (petiolule).

The leaflets are oblong to inversely egg-shaped or elliptic, 2 to 4 long, and 1 to 1¾ wide. They are wedge shaped at the base at an angle less than 90° and taper abruptly to a long point at the tip with concave sides along the tip. The upper surface is dark green, shiny, and hairless. The lower surface is pale green and hairless. The margins are untoothed. In autumn the leaves turn orange or red.

Male and female flowers are usually borne on separate plants. They appear in early to late June after the leaves have developed. The inflorescence is a loose, branched cluster (panicle), up to 8 long and 4 wide, rising from the leaf axils of first-year twigs. The flower stalks may be hairless or covered with short hairs. The panicle is more or less erect in flower, conspicuously drooping in fruit.

Individual flowers are about long. There are 5 sepals, 5 petals, 5 stamens on the male flower, and 1 style on the female flower. The sepals are green to cream-colored, united at the base, and divided into 5 teeth at the tip. The petals are greenish-yellow and 1 16 to long. The stamens have white stems (filaments) and yellow anthers and protrude beyond the petals. The style has 3 lobes.

The fruit is an almost spherical, to 3 16 in diameter, fleshy, berry-like drupe. It is green and shiny at first, turning white or ivory-colored when ripe. It matures in late August to late September and persists on the plant throughout the winter.

 
     
 

Height

 
 

10 to 15

 
     
 

Flower Color

 
 

Greenish-yellow

 
     
 

Similar Species

 
     
     
 
Habitat
 
 

Wet. Mostly swamps but also marshes and wet meadows. Shade. Saturated, sandy or peaty soils.

 
     
 
Biology
 
 

Flowering

 
 

Early to late June

 
     
 

Pests and Diseases

 
 

 

 
     
 
Use
 
 

Toxicity

 
 

The sap of poison sumac contains the allergenic urushiol. Urushiol is not a single chemical but a complex of five chemicals called alkylcatechols.

Several exposures to the substance may be necessary to impart sensitivity. Research has shown that 85% of all people will develop contact dermatitis after adequate exposure. It usually takes 12 to 48 hours for a rash to develop on a previously sensitized person. In some individuals, a single exposure will cause a reaction. In these individuals, the rash will develop in seven to ten days.

The lesions last 14 to 20 days. Rashes do not spread and are not contagious. Treatment can dry the blisters, reduce swelling, and relieve itching, but will not speed healing.

Contact with the outer surface on an undamaged plant should not cause an allergic reaction unless there is residual urushiol present from a previous injury to the plant or a nearby plant. Contact with a torn leaf, broken or damaged stem or rhizome, or black spot will cause a reaction in those sensitized to urushiol.

 
     
 
Distribution
 
 

Distribution Map

 

Sources

2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 24, 28, 29, 30.

 
  11/20/2023      
         
 

Nativity

 
 

Native

 
         
 

Occurrence

 
 

Uncommon in Minnesota

 
         
 
Taxonomy
 
  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Rosanae  
 

Order

Sapindales (soapberries, cashews, mahoganies, and allies)  
 

Family

Anacardiaceae (cashews)  
  Subfamily Anacardioideae (cashews, sumacs, and allies)  
 

Genus

Toxicodendron (poison ivies and oaks)  
       
 

Subordinate Taxa

 
 

 

 
       
 

Synonyms

 
 

Rhus vernix

Rhus vernicifera

 
       
 

Common Names

 
 

poison-ash

poison-dogwood

poison-elder

poison sumac

poison-sumac

thunderwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glossary

Axil

The upper angle where a branch, stem, leaf stalk, or vein diverges.

 

Bundle scar

Tiny raised area within a leaf scar, formed from the broken end of a vascular bundle.

 

Drupe

A fleshy fruit with usually a single hard, stone-like core, like a cherry or peach; a stone fruit.

 

Filament

On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.

 

Lenticel

A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.

 

Panicle

A pyramidal inflorescence with a main stem and branches. Flowers on the lower, longer branches mature earlier than those on the shorter, upper ones.

 

Petiole

On plants: The stalk of a leaf blade or a compound leaf that attaches it to the stem. On ants and wasps: The constricted first one or two segments of the rear part of the body.

 

Petiolule

The stalk of a leaflet blade on a compound leaf.

 

Pinnate

On a compound leaf, having the leaflets arranged on opposite sides of a common stalk. On a bryophyte, having branches evenly arranged on opposite sides of a stem.

 

Rachis

The main axis of a compound leaf, appearing as an extension of the leaf stalk; the main axis of an inflorescence.

 
 
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Jordan Wilson

 
    poison sumac   poison sumac  
           
    poison sumac   poison sumac  
           
    poison sumac   poison sumac  
           
    poison sumac   poison sumac  
 

Jaxon Lane

 
    poison sumac   poison sumac  
           
 
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Slideshows
 
winter twigs, poison sumac
ophis
  winter twigs, poison sumac  
 
About

Walpole, MA 2/7/13

 

 

slideshow

       
 
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Other Videos
 
  Poison sumac Identification (Toxicodendron vernix)
Peter Caine Dog Training
 
   
 
About

Published on Jul 2, 2017

Poison Sumac Toxicodendron vernix, commonly known as poison sumac, is a woody shrub or small tree growing to 9 m tall. It was previously known as Rhus vernix. This plant is also known as thunderwood

   
  Casting Call - Poison Sumac Plant (Toxicodendron vernix)
cowman1970
 
   
 
About

Published on Sep 8, 2014

When I made the shelter video I has accidentally came into contact with poison sumac. This video explains what the plant is, how to identify it, what happens if you come into contact with it, how you can avoid getting the rash/blisters, and what can be done to control the symptoms.

   
  Wild Moments: Poison sumac often misidentified
wgaltv
 
   
 
About

Published on Jun 29, 2012

   
  What does Poison Sumac Look Like?
Tac
 
   
 
About

Published on Jun 9, 2015

   
  Poison Sumac Identification
Ditch The Itch
 
   
 
About

Published on Jun 12, 2017

Wetlands in Western Michigan. A very good video of Poison Sumac Identification. I am a licensed pesticide applicator in Michigan, and I specialize in noxious plants (Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac)

   

 

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  Jordan Wilson
7/15/2023

Location: Boot Lake SNA

poison sumac  
  Brien Larcom
7/7/2022

Location: Willmar, MN

   
  Jaxon Lane
10/19/2018

Location: Tamarack Nature Center

poison sumac  
           
 
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Created: 10/23/2018

Last Updated:

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