smooth sumac

(Rhus glabra)

Conservation Status
smooth sumac
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed


Smooth sumac is a fast-growing, 4 to 15 tall shrub or, rarely, small tree. It rises on a single trunk from long-creeping branched rhizomes. In Minnesota mature plants are usually 4 to 15 tall and 2 to 4 in diameter. Large individuals can reach over 32 in height and 8 in diameter. It often forms dense colonies with the oldest and tallest individuals in the center surrounded by progressively younger and shorter individuals. It is a short-lived tree, usually surviving no more than 50 years.

The trunk is forked and occasionally branched. The crown is open, irregular, and rounded or flat-topped.

The bark on young parts is thin, smooth, and dark brown to yellowish-brown with prominent lenticels. As it ages it becomes slightly scaly.

The upper branchlets are hairless, but flowering branches are sparsely hairy. The lower trunk and branches are hairless and woody.

The twigs are very stout, tan to slightly reddish, and hairless. Older branches have prominent lenticels, while younger branches and twigs do not. When broken the branches exude a yellowish sap.

There is no terminal bud—the branches end in a cluster of fruits or a dead stub. The lateral buds are cone-shaped, 3 16 to ¼ long, and covered with pale brown, velvety hairs. The leaf scar is crescent or horse-shoe shaped and has 3 bundle scars. The leaf scar almost completely surrounds the bud.

The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and pinnately compound. They are 12 to 24 long and are divided into 11 to 31 leaflets. They are on 1¼ to 4 long, hairless leaf stalks. The central stalk of the leaf to which the leaflets are attached is slightly reddish and hairless and is not winged.

The leaflets are stalkless or on very short stalks. They are arranged in opposite or slightly alternate pairs with 1 terminal leaflet. They are lance-shaped, 2 to 4¾ long, and ¾ to 1¾ wide. They are rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base and taper to a long point at the tip. The upper surface is dark green and hairless. The lower surface is pale green to sometimes nearly white, hairless, and covered with a whitish, waxy coating (glaucous). The margins have fine, sharp, forward-pointing teeth or are rarely pinnately lobed. In autumn the leaves turn bright orange, red, or purple.

Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. The inflorescence is a dense, erect, 2¾ to 10 long, 1½ to 2 wide, branched cluster (panicle) at the end of many of the branchlets. Each panicle is made up of 100 to 700 flowers. Female panicles are more compact than male panicles.

The flowers are tiny and yellowish-green. They appear in early June to mid-July after the leaves are fully developed.

The fruit is fleshy and surrounds a single seed (drupe). It is dark red, to 3 16 long and wide, and covered with bright red, needle-like hairs. They are held in dense, upright clusters. They ripen from August to September and persist for most of the winter.




4 to 15


Flower Color




Similar Species


Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) branches, twigs, and rachis are densely covered with short, woolly or felty hairs. The drupes are densely hairy. It is less common than smooth sumac.


Dry. Abandoned fields, forest edges, thickets, roadsides. Full sun.




Early June to mid-July


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 24, 28, 29, 30.









  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)  
  Subclass Rosidae  
  Superorder Rosanae  


Sapindales (soapberries, cashews, mahoganies, and allies)  


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


Rhus (sumacs)  

Subordinate Taxa






Rhus borealis

Rhus calophylla

Rhus glabra var. laciniata

Rhus glabra var. occidentali


Common Names


red sumac

scarlet sumac

smooth sumac

vinegar tree









Bundle scar

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



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



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



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



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



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.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.


Winged leaf stalk

A leaf stalk with a leaf-like or membrane-like extension along both sides.

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Tom T.


Smooth Sumac Fruit & Showy Goldenrod

    smooth sumac      

Smooth Sumac Fruits

    smooth sumac      

Dan W. Andree


Autumn Sumac...

    smooth sumac      



Smooth sumac in flower. Freeborn County, MN, June 2017

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    smooth sumac   smooth sumac  


    smooth sumac   smooth sumac  
    smooth sumac   smooth sumac  


    smooth sumac   smooth sumac  


    smooth sumac   smooth sumac  


    smooth sumac      


    smooth sumac   smooth sumac  






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Other Videos
  smooth sumac
coydog outdoors

Published on Aug 5, 2013


  Smooth Sumac Revisited
Backwater Bill

Uploaded on Aug 22, 2011

While out and about I came across a huge field of Smooth Sumac. I noticed that some trees seemed to be at the very early stage of ripening, whereas other were ready to be harvested, mostly the smaller trees were ready for harvest.

I can't wait to study up and learn more about Smooth Sumac from my book by Samuel Thayer entitled: The Forager's Harvest. He has an entire chapter devoted to this wild edible

  Smooth Sumac (Edible Sumac)

Uploaded on Sep 6, 2009

Identifying and Using the Sumac as a Wild Edible

  Smooth Sumac - Tropical Plants in Minnesota -
Chuck Zamzow

Uploaded on Aug 15, 2010

Visit for more ideas!




Visitor Sightings

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  Tom T.

Location: Seven Sisters Prairie

Smooth Sumac Fruits

smooth sumac  

Location: Freeborn County, MN

Smooth sumac in flower.

smooth sumac  
  Dan W. Andree

Location: Frenchman’s Bluff - SNA in Norman County, Mn.

smooth sumac  

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