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Rhus glabra & Rhus typhinia

Smooth Sumac & Staghorn Sumac

Family Anacardiaceae

Beverage. Berries can be chewed to quench thirst. A lemonade-like
drink can be made adding bruised berries to water for 15 min,
straining the mixture to remove the hairs, and adding sugar.


Growth Form: Large shrub or sometimes tree (staghorn grows to tree size more often).

Leaves: (Both) Pinnately compound. 11-13 leaflets, each 5-10cm (2-4in) long, and saw toothed. Axis slender and reddish-green.

Leaf (Hannah Ramer. Brandeis University, Waltham, MA)

Fruits (Hannah Ramer. Brandeis University, Waltham, MA)

Flowers:(Both) Roughly 3mm (0.125-0.188in) in diameter. 5 white petals, occurring in long upright clusters, open in early summer.

Fruits: (Both) Dark red, round, one-seeded, occurring in pyramidal upright clusters, covered with acidic hairs. Berries are slightly larger in Staghorn.

Twigs: (Smooth) Hairless. (Staghorn) Densely hairy.

Bark: (Both) Brown, smooth possible becoming scaly.

Habitat and Range

Open uplands, including old fields, clearings, and roadsides, but in slightly differnt ranges. Smooth sumac occurs from Saskatchewan to Maine, south to Florida and west to Texas. There are also mountain populations from British Colombia to New Mexico. Staghorn sumac occupies a smaller range, from Minnesota east to Maine, south to South Carolina and Tennessee.


Berries should be harvested in summer, after ripening but before heavy rains wash out the acid.

Fun Facts

Hybridization occurs frequently, resulting in intermediate characteristics.

Smooth sumac is also called “scarlet sumac” and “common sumac.” Staghorn sumac is also known as “velvet sumac.”

Hairy twig of Staghorn sumac (Emily Silver)
Hairy twig of Staghorn sumac

Whole shrub, Staghorn Sumac (Emily Silver)Whole shrub, Staghorn Sumac

Smooth sumac is the only shrub or tree species native to all 48 contiguous United States.

Bark and leaves are rich in tannin; these were used in tanning leather and it has been said that black ink can be made by boiling the leaves.

Click to see recipes for Mulled Sumac and Sumacade!

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